Inorganic vs. Organic Chemistry

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  • 0:02 Organic & Inorganic Chemistry
  • 1:13 Key Differences:…
  • 2:06 Key Differences:…
  • 3:11 Key Differences:…
  • 3:38 Table Sugar vs. Table Salt
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

The study of chemicals is a very specific branch of science, but chemistry can be divided even further into separate fields, two of which are organic and inorganic. In this lesson, we'll explore the differences between these two fields of chemistry.

Organic & Inorganic Chemistry

Chemistry is an age-old science of which human knowledge has grown significantly in the past 3,000 years. But it's only in the past few centuries that scientists have made some of their greatest strides in the study of chemicals. In fact, it wasn't until the 17th century that scientists recognized that there are two types of chemistry: organic and inorganic.

So what's the difference between these two? The answer is fairly simple. Organic chemistry is the study of molecules that contain carbon compounds. In contrast, inorganic chemistry is the study of all compounds that do NOT contain carbon compounds. If organic chemistry is the 'yin,' then inorganic chemistry is certainly the 'yang.'

Let's compare two samples to see the difference between an organic and an inorganic compound. Sample A, which is potassium permanganate, doesn't have a single trace of carbon present - this sample is our inorganic compound. Sample B, alizarin, contains several carbon atoms, so it is an organic compound.

Let's explore several differences between the fields of organic and inorganic chemistry by looking at the following characteristics:

  • Chemical structure
  • Chemical classification
  • Scientific purpose

Key Differences: Chemical Structure

As we've mentioned, the main difference between organic and inorganic chemistry is the structure of the chemicals being studied. An organic compound must contain a carbon atom in its structure. But don't be surprised if you happen to see other elements, such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. In contrast, inorganic compounds do not contain carbon atoms in their structure.

Despite this key difference between organic and inorganic chemistry, there is a minor issue we need to address. Our friend carbon can sometimes make a special appearance in the structure of inorganic compounds. Where, you ask? In compounds called organometallics. An organometallic compound is formed from the bonding of a carbon atom in an organic compound to a metal in an inorganic compound. The organometallic compound simply shows us that, despite the differences between both fields, there is a gray area where they can overlap one another.

Key Differences: Chemical Classification

In addition to having different chemical structures, organic and inorganic compounds are classified in different ways. Organic compounds are classified by functional groups, which are certain groups of atoms (or bonds) within molecules that determine the characteristic reactions of those molecules. You can identify a functional group by pinpointing key atoms or molecules in a compound. Classification of inorganic compounds is super easy to remember. They fall into the basic categories of acid, base, salt or metal.

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