Inorganic vs Organic Chemistry: What’s The Difference?

Published on April 19, 2024

Inorganic vs Organic Chemistry: What’s The Difference?

The difference between organic and inorganic chemistry is obvious for every professional employee of the chemical laboratory, and for all people who didn’t play truant during the basic chemistry lessons. For many, this general knowledge is enough to start. However, if you’re just going to devote your time and effort to experiments with chemical reagents, starting with the difference between these two basic branches is a good choice. So let’s put everything in simple words and outline the theory with valid examples of real compounds and their uses.

General info about inorganic chemistry

When you start studying basic chemistry at school, you, usually, start with inorganic chemistry. That’s a branch of science that deals with both the physical and chemical properties of compounds and their synthesis through different types of reactions. At this point, you also study the molecular structure of inorganic compounds, which are characterized as simpler ones. Indeed, even if a complete beginner takes a look at the molecular formulas of such substances and compares them to organic ones, he will easily notice the obvious difference.

Inorganic chemistry defined

But let’s talk more scientifically and define inorganic chemistry in more appropriate terms. In a nutshell, according to the definition from the chemistry dictionary, inorganic chemistry is the study of the chemistry of molecules of non-biological origin. By “non-biological origin” scientists mean compounds that were created in the process of inorganic synthesis, as well as organometallic compounds. The latter ones are created by a covalent bond between a carbon atom and a metal.

The most obvious difference between inorganic and organic chemistry is that inorganic compounds don’t contain C-H bonds. However, take note that this doesn’t mean that carbon and hydrogen atoms aren’t included in some inorganic substances, like allotropes of carbon and salts of inorganic anions.

For what inorganic chemistry is used

The use of inorganic chemistry is very wide across numerous sectors and industries that affect our everyday lives. It won’t be an overestimation if we say that every day you deal with products made of inorganic chemical compounds. You should think not only about medicines or fuels, or more specific stuff like inorganic chemical catalysts. Consider that inorganic chemistry is widely used in the agricultural sector, mainly, in the niche of fertilizers. That’s the reason why almost every food you eat today is a result of the efficiency of inorganic chemistry.

Consider, for example, Ammonia. Its formula is NH3 and in the agricultural sector, it’s applied as the source of nitrogen for fertilizers. Apart from fertilizing, this inorganic compound is also used to produce nylons, plastics, and explosives. So, we can roughly conclude that inorganic chemistry is used in such fields as:

  • Agriculture
  • Pharmacy
  • Nanotechnology
  • Manufacturing
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Electronics and semiconductor industry

Examples of inorganic compounds

As the basic definition says, inorganic compounds aren’t made of C-H bonds. Apart from Ammonia (NH3), you should also be aware of the efficiency of such substances as:

  • Sodium chloride (NaCl): In everyday life, you can avoid this compound only if you are on a very strict diet and don’t eat salt. The answer is prosaic — sodium chloride is often referred to as table salt.
  • Sodium hypochlorite (NaOCL): You might not know the formula of this product but you use it if you use laundry. It’s one of the most widely utilized solutions for cleaning and bleaching of fabrics or surfaces. It also has antiseptic properties that’s why it can be used for the disinfection of aquariums.
  • Carbone dioxide (CO2): Most of us have heard about this compound due to its negative effects. Carbone dioxide is, in simple words, a greenhouse gas,  that contributes to global warming. However, it can also be used to produce soda, sugar, wine, soda water, and beer. In a solid aggregate state, it can also be used as a cooling agent for meat and fish.

General info about organic chemistry

Organic chemistry is a branch of chemistry that delves into the study of carbon-containing compounds. While carbon is the central focus, the field extends its embrace to other elements like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and more. Unlike inorganic chemistry, which encompasses a broader range of elements, organic chemistry scrutinizes the intricate structures, properties, reactions, and synthesis methods of carbon-based compounds.

Organic chemistry defined

Organic chemistry is not merely a scientific discipline; it's a realm that explores the fundamental building blocks of life. The vast majority of compounds found in living organisms, from the simplest bacteria to complex human beings, are organic. The unique versatility of carbon allows it to form diverse bonds and structures, leading to an expansive array of organic molecules.

In organic chemistry, researchers and scientists dissect the behavior of carbon compounds, unraveling the mysteries of molecular interactions. The study extends beyond the laboratory, permeating fields such as medicine, agriculture, materials science, and environmental science. From the DNA strands that encode genetic information to the proteins that govern cellular processes, organic chemistry is the key to understanding life's intricate dance at the molecular level.

For what organic chemistry is used

  • Medicine and Pharmaceuticals: Applications: Organic chemistry is the cornerstone of drug discovery and development. Medicinal chemists employ organic synthesis techniques to create pharmaceutical compounds that target specific biological pathways. From pain relievers to antibiotics, the pharmaceutical landscape owes its existence to organic chemistry.
  • Materials Science: Applications: Organic chemistry contributes significantly to the creation of advanced materials. Polymers, plastics, and fibers are products of organic synthesis. The design and development of lightweight, durable materials for various industries, including aerospace and electronics, rely on the principles of organic chemistry.
  • Agriculture: Applications: Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, essential components of modern agriculture, are products of organic chemistry. The synthesis of organic compounds enhances crop yield, protects against pests, and fosters sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Energy Production: Applications: Organic chemistry plays a role in the field of energy, particularly in the development of fuels. The study of biofuels, derived from organic matter, aims to provide alternative and sustainable energy sources, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Examples of organic compounds

  • Hydrocarbons: Methane, ethane, propane, and butane. These simple hydrocarbons serve as the foundation for more complex organic molecules.
  • Alcohols: Ethanol, methanol, and isopropanol. Alcohols find applications in both industrial processes and everyday products like disinfectants and beverages.
  • Carboxylic Acids: Acetic acid (found in vinegar) and citric acid (found in citrus fruits). Carboxylic acids are integral to food preservation and flavor.
  • Amino Acids: Glycine, alanine, and valine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, essential for life processes.
  • Polymers: Polyethylene, polypropylene, and nylon. Polymers are large organic molecules with repeating units, forming the basis of plastics and synthetic materials.

How to distinguish organic from inorganic chemistry

To put it very simply, to make a distinguishing between organic and inorganic chemistry, you need to ask yourself a question: is that compound related to a living organism? If not and it’s a metal, acid, or mineral that cannot be produced by a living organism, then it should be defined as an inorganic compound. If the answer is the opposite and you deal with biochemistry, studying organic compounds is a necessity.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, organic and inorganic chemistry are not just scientific disciplines; it's a key to unlocking the mysteries of life and harnessing the power of molecular design for diverse applications. From the medicines that heal to the materials that surround us, organic chemistry is woven into the fabric of our existence.

Author: Chemist EU

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