Introduction and RevieV
The modern definItIon of organic chemIstry Is
the chemistr of caRbon compounds.
What Is so specIal about caRbon tHat a whoLe branch of cHemIstry Is devoted to its
compounds? UnLIke most otheR eLements, caRbon foRms stRong bonds to otheR caR-
bon atoms and to a wIde vaRIety of otHeR elements. ChaIns and RIngs of caRbon
atoms can be built up to foRm an endless varIety of molecuLes. ±t Is tHis dIveRsIty of
carbon compounds tHat pRovIdes tHe basis foR LIfe on EaRth. ²ivIng creatures aRe
composed laRgely of complex organIc compounds that seRve stRuctuRaL, chemical,
oR genetIc functIons.
l´teRaLLy means "deR´Ved fRom lIvIng oRganIsmsµ¶ ORIgInally,
the scIence of organic chemIstRy was the study of compounds extRacted from LIvIng
organisms and tHeIR natuRaL pRoducts. Compounds such as sugaR, urea, staRcH, waxes,
and plant oILs weRe consIdeRed "oRganIc,· and people accepted
the belIef that
natuRaL products needed a ¸vItal foRce· to cReate them. OrganIc cHemIstry, then, was
tHe study of compounds HavIng tHe vItal foRce¹ ±norganIc cHemIstRy was tHe study of
gases, Rocks, and mineRals, and tHe compounds that could be made Fºom them.
±n tHe nineteentH centuRy, expeRiments sHowed tHat oRganIc compounds couLd
be syntHesIzed fRom InoRganIc compounds. ±n 1828» the German chemist ¼RIedrIcH
W½hLer conveRted ammonIum cyanate, made fRom ammonia and cyanic acid, to uRea
simpLy by Heating it in tHe absence of oXygenµ
Urea Had always come fRom LivIng oRganIsms and was presumed to contain the vital
force, yet ammonIum cyanate Is InoRganIc and tHus lacks the vitaL forceµ Some
chemists cLaimed that a trace of vItaL foRce fRom W½hler's Hands must have contamI-
nated tHe Reaction, but most recognIzed tHe possIbilIty of synthesizing oRganIc com-
pounds from InoRganIcs. Many otHeR syntheses weRe caRried out, and the v´tal foRce
theory was eventualLy dIscarded.
SInce ÄItaLIsm was dIspRoved In tHe eaRly nIneteenth centuRy, youÅd thInk It
would be eXtInct by nowµ And youÆd be wRong! ÄItalIsm lIves on today In tHe mInds
of those wHo belIeve tHat "natuRal· (plantÇdeRIved) vItamins, flavoR compounds, etcµ
aRe someHow dIÈerent and more HeaLtHful tHan tHe IdentIcaL "artIÉcIal· (synthesized)
aRtIfCIal heaR±, COmpOsed
LargelY OF sYN±het²C ORgaNIC mateRIals.