Organic Chemistry I For Dummies

Organic Chemistry I For Dummies

Regrettably, when many people think of chemicals, the first things that usually pop into their minds are substances of a disagreeable nature — harmful pesticides and chemical pollutants, nerve agents and chemical weapons, or carcinogens and toxins.

But most chemicals play roles of a more positive nature. For example, both water and sugar are chemicals. Why are these chemicals important? Well, for one thing, both are components of beer. The enzymes in yeasts are also important chemicals used in fermentation, a process that involves the breakdown of sugars into beer. Ethyl alcohol is the all-important chemical responsible for beer’s effect on the body. In my view, these three representative examples of chemicals thoroughly rebut the notion that all chemicals are bad.

In fact, those who have a bad opinion of all chemicals must suffer from the psychological condition of self-loathing, because human bodies are essentially large vats of chemicals. Your skin is made up of chemicals — along with your heart, lungs, kidneys, and all your other favorite organs and appendages. And most of the chemicals in your body — in addition to the chemicals in all other living things — are not just any kinds of chemicals, but organic chemicals. So, anyone who has any interest at all in the machinery of living things (or in the chemistry of beer and wine) will have to deal at some point and at some level with organic chemistry.

Of course, the natures of these dealings have historically not always been so pleasant. Pre-med students and bio majors (and even chemistry majors) have butted heads with organic chemistry for decades, and, regrettably, the winner of this duel has not always been the human.

Part of the problem, I think, comes from students’ preconceptions of organic chemistry. I admit that, like many students, I had the worst preconceptions going into organic chemistry. When I thought of organic class, I thought of wearying trivia about the chemical elements, coma-inducing lectures delivered in a monotone, complex mathematical equations sprawling across mile-long chalkboards, and a cannon fire of structures and chemical reactions vomited one after the other in succession. The only successful students, I thought, would be those wearing thick spectacles, periodic-table ties, and imitation leather shoes with Velcro straps.

But if my preconceptions of organic lecture were bad, my preconceptions of organic labs were worse. I feared the organic laboratory course, certain the instant I would step into the lab, all the chemicals would instantly vaporize, condense on my unclothed extremities, and permeate my hair, pores, follicles, and nails. As a result, my skin would erupt in a rash. I would bald. My nails would yellow. The love of my life would take one look at my scarred physiognomy, sicken of men, and leave me sitting alone, Job-like, amongst the ashes of my existence, scratching my weeping sores with a broken potsherd.

Turns out I was wrong on that one. I was surprised to find that I actually liked organic chemistry. I really liked doing it — it was fun! And working in the laboratory making new substances was less toxic than I thought it would be and was instead interesting and even entertaining. I was wrong about the math, too: If you can count to 11 without taking off your shoes, you can do the math in organic chemistry. The turning point, really, was when I stopped fighting organic chemistry, stopped feeding my preconceptions, and changed my attitude. That was when I really started enjoying the subject.

I hope you choose not to fight organic chemistry from the beginning (as I did) and instead decide to just get along and become friends with organic chemistry. In that case, this book will help you get to know organic chemistry as quickly as possible (and as well as possible), so that when your professor decides to test you on how well you know your newfound comrade, you’ll do just fine.


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