Why Study Organic Chemistry?

I wrote this a while back to kick off a series of notes for an organic chemistry refresher course for secondary school teachers. It seemed appropriate to post in light of the recent war on chemophobia taking place on the Internet. We are a small band of fighters, but we will prevail! —mevans

I think it’s essential for every professor of organic chemistry to conceive a good response to the title question. In today’s age of student-centered learning and practical education for concrete skills, a “good” answer should both convince students that the subject is valuable and speak to its more general worth to society. In this short introductory section, I describe my reasons why organic chemistry is worth studying, and what dedicated students of the subject can expect to gain from it.

I’ll begin with a focus on the practical value of organic chemistry to society. Organic compounds permeate our daily lives in an unfathomable number of ways. Organic compounds play an essential role in such diverse fields as genetics, materials science, nutrition, kinesiology and consumer products development. Each of these fields depends one way or another on our ability to make organic compounds (naturally or otherwise), the knowledge of which rests on an understanding of the fundamentals of structure and reactivity. It is becoming clearer daily that many of the biological processes that sustain human life can be viewed in the light of the elementary steps of organic chemistry. For many applications, such as light-emitting diodes and solar cells, we are only just beginning to realize the potential of organic compounds. As the scope and importance of organic chemistry continue to grow, our need to study it increases accordingly. Continue reading →

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