How organic chemistry affects society | Lily Chen – Grade 9

alcohol Organic chemistry is responsible for some of our favorite things.
  • Examples of organic chemistry exist all around us
  • Both fertilizers and pesticides, which are essential for agriculture, are produced using organic chemistry
  • Organic chemicals are often used in pharmaceutical manufacturing

Organic Chemistry has a reputation as a hard class and a difficult science to master. Being that it requires great memory and also firm understanding of biological and chemical concepts, students often get confused and frustrated while studying organic chem. However, in spite of the difficulty and challenges students must get through, organic chem tells people how life exists and how the world works. It gives us a glimpse into the fascinating but complicated world of chemical reactions and structures of organic molecules, and opens the window to solve countless medical and ecological problems. It also plays an important role in industrial applications and in our everyday life. Therefore, exploring this branch of knowledge is worthwhile, and there are a huge amount of scientists who dedicate their whole life studying it.

But first things first:

What is organic chemistry?

What makes us different from a rock? Why are we considered living organisms?

During the 18th century, organic matter was defined as compounds obtained from living things. In fact, “organic” means “coming from an organism”, while “inorganic” means everything else.

However, German scientist Frederich Wohler produced an organic compound – urea (the compound contained in animal urine) – in his laboratory, which meant organic matter didn’t have to come from organisms.

Eventually, the definition changed. Organic compounds became any chemical compound which contains carbon (there are still a handful of exceptions, such as carbon dioxide, but the definition is generally consistent).

What have carbon-based chemicals done for us?

There are actually numerous examples of organic chemistry around us- basically everything we use. The subject is so wide and complex that it is studied as a separate branch of chemistry. Due to the huge amount of products related to organic compounds, many consider them central to economic growth. In 2014, the global chemicals industry contributed 4.9% of the global GDP and the sector had gross revenues of US$5.2 trillion. If that money was separated evenly, that would mean every individual on Earth would get US$800. Thus, organic chemistry produces a stupendous amount of job opportunities. Just for reference, here are some examples of organic chem in daily life:

Polymers

Polymers are a huge combination of long chains and branches of organic structural units bonded together. People discovered these polymers (such as starch, natural rubber, and cellulose) in the natural world at the very beginning of human civilization. However, man-made polymeric materials weren’t studied until the middle of the 19th century. Since then, the polymer industry has rapidly developed and polymers are used to synthesize fabric, nylon, plastic, and other materials.

Agriculture

The world population has been increasing and we now have over 7 billion human beings around the world. Ever wonder how we produced food so efficiently that all these people get to eat? Thank fertilizers. Just like humans, plants can grow better with the help of nutrients in the soil. Fertilizers are basically plant vitamins. Furthermore, in order to prevent crops from being harmed by insects, pesticides are required in agriculture as well. Both fertilizers and pesticides are produced using organic chemistry.

Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are chemical products derived from petroleum which have an astounding array of uses. Most people are probably aware of gasoline and plastic when thinking of petroleum, but petrochemicals are extremely versatile and are incorporated in products ranging from groceries to aviation fuel.

Soap and Detergents

They are both helpful when washing away dirt and grime. Soap has been used as a cleaning agent for a long time, while detergents were invented many centuries later. The main benefit of detergents is that they have the ability to be used in hard water (water which contains salt minerals) and that it improves the efficiency of cleaning. Today, soap and detergents are so essential that we use them every day.

Medical Purposes and Biological uses

Organic chemicals are often used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and pharmaceutical products have a great significance in healthcare. Along with well-trained health professionals, medicine is certainly the strongest and most effective way to prevent, alleviate, or cure disease. Medicine has improved quality of life and extended average life expectancy around the world.

As you can see, most of the products and daily necessities we use involve organic chemistry. And that’s just a handful of examples! There’s still a lot to explore. Batteries, furniture, vehicles, food, and our bodies contain organic compounds. Petroleum, coal, and gasoline which provide energy are also made through the industrial processes of organic chemistry.

But isn’t it too complicated for everyone to learn about it?

Of course not! If you think of memorizing all the chemical structures on your textbooks when people talk about organic chemistry, I’m here to tell you that’s not it. In fact, it is a wide branch of applied science- our lives wouldn’t be so convenient if scientists hadn’t done so many studies and experiments about organic chemistry. Even though it may require lots of thinking and reading at the beginning, getting to understand concepts of the world we are currently living in and the science behind daily necessities is always exciting.

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