An Introduction to Organic Chemistry
Organic chemistry is the study of carbon containing compounds and their properties. This
includes the great majority of chemical compounds on the planet, but some substances such
as carbonates and oxides of carbon are considered to be inorganic substances even though
they contain carbon.
Organic chemicals are continually released into the environment in large quantities. For
example, global production of mineral oil exceeds 3 billion tonnes a year and the amount of
new organic chemicals made each year in research laboratories and industry is increasing
exponentially. There is a need to understand how these organic molecules will interact with
the environment in order to minimise their impact. To achieve this the type of reactions that
organic molecules undergo needs to be understood.
How do you tell the difference between an Organic and an Inorganic Compound?
Probably the best way is to compare the chemical and physical properties of substances to the
table below. If they concur with those properties on the left column of the table then the
substance is probably organic, whilst if they compare to the properties listed in the right
column then the substance is most likely inorganic.
Organic Compounds Inorganic Compounds
Use mostly covalent bonding Mostly ionic bonding
Are gases, liquids or solids with low melting points Are generally solids with high melting points
Mostly insoluble in water Many are water soluble
Many are soluble in organic solvents such as
petroleum, benzene and hexane
Most are not soluble in organic solvents
Solution in water generally do not conduct electricity When dissolved in water conducts electrical current
Almost all burn Most not combustible
Slow to react with other chemicals Often undergo fast chemical reactions
Table 1: Comparison of the properties of organic and inorganic compounds
The vast majority of organic compounds are typically chains or rings of carbon atoms that
contain other elements such as O, N, P, S, Cl, Br and I. There are over five million of these
compounds known today and an almost infinite number of new compounds could possibly be
synthesized. This can be compared to the total number of inorganic compounds, which is
approximately half a million.