When taking up your first advanced courses in high school level science, you will find two separate courses named organic and inorganic chemistry listed in the course schedule. Till date, you might have taken up only a single course in basic chemistry and the bifurcation of this subject into two separate parts might baffle you. As a subject advances in its scope of applicability and complexity, it tends to get divided into sub-fields and chemistry is no exception to this. According to the kind of chemical reactions studied and the materials investigated, chemistry is divided into organic and inorganic chemistry. In this Buzzle article, I have elucidated the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry, for beginner students taking up advanced chemistry courses.
What is Organic Chemistry?
Organic chemistry, as the name itself suggests, deals with the study of all kinds of organic compounds. Earlier, the term - 'Organic' addressed compounds of biological origin but now it is broadly defined to apply to all carbon compounds and hydrocarbons (C-H compounds) in particular. These includes alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, aromatic compounds, aliphatic compounds, polymers and biomolecules. It involves the study of structure, properties, synthesis, reactions and applications of organic compounds. Like any other field of chemistry, there is considerable lab work involved in a typical organic chemistry course which focuses on studying characterization, identification and analysis of organic reactions. Advanced courses in organic chemistry study biological reaction mechanisms like cellular respiration, protein synthesis, DNA replication and other such phenomena in substantial detail.
What is Inorganic Chemistry?
Inorganic chemistry focuses on studying the realm of non-organic compounds, which includes all naturally occurring and artificially synthesized metallic and non-metallic compounds. It involves the study of structure, properties and synthesis of these compounds. Advanced inorganic chemistry involves molecular quantum mechanics which provides an accurate description of the molecular structure of inorganic compounds. Reaction mechanisms involving inorganic compounds are studied in detail. Lab work in primary inorganic chemistry courses involves 'Inorganic Qualitative Analysis' aimed at training students in identifying the salts of various types through a series of investigative experiments. It also involves several quantitative analysis methods, like titration and actual synthesis of inorganic compounds.
How is Organic Chemistry Different From Inorganic Chemistry?
After having defined the subject scope details of both chemistry branches, the differences between them should be already clear. While organic chemistry studies hydrocarbon compounds or organic compound complexes in general, inorganic chemistry studies the rest of subset of compounds, other than organic compounds. This clear distinction was necessary due to the higher complexity of organic compounds compared to inorganic compounds.
This necessitates a different set of analytical tools and ideas, for studying both subjects, which justifies the bifurcation. The scope of organic chemistry is much more wider than inorganic chemistry as it naturally prepares a student for higher studies in biotechnology, genetic engineering, microbiology, biophysics and other advanced biological sciences. Theoretical inorganic chemistry is in fact quantum physics and people with an analytical bend of mind, with a love for physics and mathematics, will find it to be an exciting field. Both are sufficiently interesting subjects of study. If you plan to make a career in biotechnology, a grounding in organic chemistry is a must. Inorganic chemistry provides access to the highly interesting field of nanotechnology. I suggest that you take up both courses, if you plan to make a career as a chemist as both train you to understand the structure of matter in a range of different material manifestations.
Thus the prime difference between organic and inorganic chemistry lies in the subjects of study. While one is primarily devoted to the study of carbon compounds including hydrocarbons, the other focuses on the study of the entire gamut of non-organic reactions. In organic chemistry, you will spend a considerable amount of time in rightly naming various types of organic compounds according to the right nomenclatures and then study the various synthesis methods of each different type of organic compound. This is just basic preparation.
Real organic chemistry starts when you start understanding the underlying mechanisms that make organic reactions possible and apply the knowledge in understanding various biological reactions. Inorganic chemistry will first focus on defining and describing various types of inorganic compounds, their structure and reactions. The division of a field into sub-parts is only for our own convenience. There are several phenomena where both inorganic and organic chemistry principles must overlap to provide us with some real answers. One such field where both fields merge is 'Organometallic Chemistry'. Hope this differentiation of organic and inorganic chemistry was an insightful read for you.