Organic Chemistry Reactions: A Quick Guide

organic chemistry reactionsChemistry is the study of the stuff that holds us together. Molecules, compounds, electrons, and bonds, when it all comes down to it, chemistry is the key to understanding the universe and everything in it. It can be used to better understand what anything and everything is made of, including you and me. Chemistry itself is a massive realm of study, with new discoveries being made and put to use every day, organic chemists, however, concern themselves with the one element that is present in all forms of organic matter: carbon.

Organic chemistry is the subset of chemistry focusing on the structure, properties and reactions of organic (carbon-based) compounds or materials and forms the basis of some of the most cutting edge research sciences today. Learning the principles of chemistry is easy on Udemy. Check out Chemistry 101, a comprehensive instruction to chemistry to learn about everything from states of matter to covalent bonding.

Reactions in Action

Reactions are how molecules interact with each other, giving, taking and sharing electrons; creating compounds and materials we use every day. Throughout history, discoveries in organic chemistry and organic reactions have paved the way for major technological advances. Organic chemists use reactions to synthesise new molecules and man made chemicals like pharmaceuticals, fabrics, and organic materials like graphene.  Everything from solar cells, like the ones used at the worlds largest solar energy farm to the soap you lather up with in the shower depend on an organic chemical reaction.

Understanding reactions in fairly straightforward. In the Udemy course titled Chemistry of the Elements,  you’ll learn that each element has a unique way of interacting with electrons, which in turn affect how they interact with each other. In short, molecules build and break bonds with each other, trading electrons in the process. This forms the basis of an organic chemical reaction. The process is basically identical as any other chemical reaction found in the lofty realms of chemistry.

What sets organic chemical reactions apart is the need to account for reactants and reactive intermediaries. In Udemy’s all-inclusive guide to Organic and Physical Chemistry you can learn more about what makes Organic Chemistry reactions unique, but for now, lets touch on some of the most common types of reactions you’ll find in Organic Chemistry.

Mechanisms of Organic Reactions

While there are technically an unlimited number of possible organic reactions, there are general patterns that are useful in understanding the most common (and useful) reactions. Organic reactions are organized into several categories based on these patterns, which are further categorized into subtypes. Some reactions fit into only one category, while others fit into many. Only basic reactions can be classified in this way, so remember that while these serve as a good guide for simpler reactions, they are far from a comprehensive documentation of organic reactions.

Addition Reactions

In terms of complexity, addition reactions are pretty simple to understand. An addition reaction occurs when two or more molecules combine to form a larger one. Addition reactions can only occur in chemical compounds that possess more than one bond, and therefore is typically seen with alkenes and alkynes. Molecules like carbonyl or imine are also subject to addition reactions since they have a double bond character. Subtypes of addition reactions include electrophilic addition, and nucleophilic addition, as well as radical addition.

Elimination Reactions

For every addition reaction, there is an elimination reaction. Elimination reactions occur when two substituent atoms are removed from a molecule. Elimination reactions happen in a one or two step processes known as Unimolecular Elimination (E1) and Bimolecular Elimination (E2). Unless you want to wind up confusing yourself, it’s important to note that the abbreviations E1 and E2 are in reference to the Unimolecular and Bimolecular portions of the name, not the number of steps each entails.

Substitution Reactions

Substitution reactions, particularly electrophilic and nucleophilic substitutions, are of great interest to organic chemists. Substitution reactions work exactly how the name implies, by replacing one functional group in a chemical compound for another. Organic substitution reactions are further categorized by whether the reagent employed to catalyze the substitution was electrophilic (a positively charged “electron lover”) or nucleophilic (a negatively charged electron donor), as well as the type of reactive intermediate present in the reaction.

Understanding the details of a substitution reaction can yield some serious insight into the product outcome of the reaction, so chemists have gone to great lengths to classify the different types of substitution reactions and what makes them unique. Radical substitution, which employs the use of free radicals as a reactive intermediate, and organometallic Substitution are also types of organic substitution reactions present in organic chemistry.

Organic Redox Reaction

Organic redox reactions, a blanket term for organic oxidations and organic reductions, make up some of the most important reactions in organic chemistry. Take for example, the smelting of iron. Until research into the organic reduction of iron smelting only 500 years ago, nobody knew why the weight of an iron ingot was less than that of the ore it was smelted from. That organic reduction, later named oxidation, formed the basis for understanding the composition of atoms. Organic redox reactions are unique in that they do not involve the transfer of electrons, but rather change the oxidation state of the effected matter.

Applications of Organic Chemistry

The world of organic chemistry is vast and in depth, with companies all over the world looking for scientists to work in an array of fields ranging from pharmaceutical development to the fabrication of explosives. As a career, organic chemistry offers exciting research and development opportunities, helping create the next great polymer like nylon, or discovering new biomolecules to treat genetic disorders. Check out Dr. Graham Bray’s class on Chemistry in Society to learn some more applications of organic chemistry, or brush up for the Chemistry Regents with this guide by Guy Hauptman. Both courses will further expand your knowledge of organic chemistry, as well as some ways that you can start putting what you learn to good use.