Organic Chemistry: A Mad Addiction 

It is an inevitable part of studying Biology. Organic Chemistry deals with chemical compounds that have carbon, attached to other carbons, hydrogen and other functional groups. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

A Little History

Back then, people believed that there is a vital force within living things and that the compounds that comprise the living are not the same as the compounds within the non-living. Early chemists noted this distinction and categorized compounds into “mineral-world” compounds and “living-world” compounds. This theory is called vitalism, and it was widely accepted before the 19th century (1800-1899).

Challenging Vitalism

Friedrich Wöhler was a German chemist in the 19th century (and I specifically typed the German umlaut because I did study German before) who was among the first who challenged the idea of vitalism. He once made an experiment that involved heating of ammonium cyanate and produced urea. You see ammonium cyanate was considered a “mineral-world” compound and urea was considered a “living-world” compound. This is now known as the Wöhler synthesis reaction and it broadened the understanding of chemists at the time. It was the precursor to what we know now as Organic Chemistry.

Much Amaze, So Wow

If you were a chemist in the 19th century, you would be used to writing simple, inorganic compounds such as CaCO3 or CuSO4. But when they first isolated white crystals from gallstones, they were amazed by the empirical formula: C27H46O. This is what we know now as cholesterol. They were also fascinated that organic compounds with the same empirical formula can have entirely different structures. In fact Friedrich Wöhler once wrote:

“Organic chemistry is enough to drive one mad. It gives me the impression of a primeval tropical forest, full of the most remarkable things, a monstrous and boundless thicket, with no way of escape, into one which may dread to enter.”

-Friedrich Wöhler

My Personal Experience

I’m not ashamed to say that I took Chemistry 31 twice. That is the Organic Chemistry subject in UP Diliman. It was a really difficult subject for me and luckily I passed the second time (Huhuhu sir Ser if you are reading this: Thank you so much). Honestly though, organic chemistry is really intimidating and annoying because of all the reactions you have to memorize for each functional group. I also remember proposing synthesis reactions to produce even the simplest compounds. It was much more fun the second time around (just like love…whut?).

If you are currently taking (or retaking for the nth time) organic chemistry, don’t lose hope. It is a fun subject and it can change the way you think about life. In my case, org chem helps me understand the sugar back bone of DNA. It helps me understand why uracil is used in RNA instead of thyamine. It helps me explain as to why plant fat is healthier than animal fat, and why trees can stand tall even if they only synthesize sugars. There’s a whole lot more to organic chemistry than just suffering. It may be hard (duh, even Wöhler thinks it’s a freaking forest!) but trust me when I say that it will be worth it.

Chem31 ❤ Good luck!

 

Reference:

  1. Silberberg (2010) Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change 5th Philippine ed. McGraw-Hill Education Asia, printed in the Philippines, pp 629-630
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