How many molecules are there?
How many carbon-containing molecules are there? The current estimate is around 20 million different organic compounds that we know about. Why the uncertainty? Every day, scientists are coming up with new compounds. Some of these materials are of interest for a research project, while others are destined to be developed for a commercial market. As soon think we know how many organic compounds exist, more are discovered and our number quickly becomes out of date.
At one time in history, it was thought that only living things were capable of synthesizing the carbon-containing compounds present in cells. For that reason, the term organic was applied to those compounds. Eventually it was proved that carbon-containing compounds could be synthesized from inorganic substances, but the term organic has remained. Currently, organic compounds are defined as covalently bonded compounds containing carbon, excluding carbonates and oxides. By this definition, compounds such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) are considered to be inorganic. Organic chemistry is the study of all organic compounds.
Organic chemistry is a very vast and complex subject. There are millions of known organic compounds, which is far more than the number of inorganic compounds. The reason lies within the uniqueness of carbon’s structure and bonding capabilities. Carbon has four valence electrons and therefore makes four separate covalent bonds in compounds. Carbon has the ability to bond to itself repeatedly, making long chains of carbon atoms as well as ringed structures. These bonds can be single, double, or triple covalent bonds. Carbon readily makes covalent bonds with other elements, primarily hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, halogens, and several other nonmetals. The figure below shows ball-and-stick models of two of the many organic compounds.
The related field of biochemistry overlaps to some extent with organic chemistry. Biochemistry is the study of the chemistry of living systems. Many biochemical compounds are considered to be organic chemicals. Both of the molecules shown above are biochemical materials in terms of their use in the body, but organic chemicals in terms of their structure and chemical reactivity.
Growing Nanotube Forests
What if we could grow elevators to space? Or make phones that last for weeks without a charge? These things could someday be possible someday with an amazing material like carbon nanotubes.
- What is organic chemistry?
- What is an organic compound?
- How do biochemistry and organic chemistry overlap?