Organics – Both a buzz word, and a chemical discipline


A buzz word in food & beverage circles, but what of its chemical functions and applications? And what of the biofuels debate? Tony Wheatly finds out.

The term ‘organic’ was originally derived from the word ‘organism’ and used to describe substances, compounds and molecules that were derived from either plant or animal sources and therefore the products of biological processes in the natural universe – as distinct from those extracted from inorganic materials like rocks or minerals.

The earliest attempts to synthesise organic compounds from living sources were unsuccessful. This fostered the popular belief that organic compounds were intrinsically different from inorganic compounds, in that they could only be produced in living organisms by virtue of some ‘vital force’ which they possessed.

It was Friedrich Wöhler who dispelled this myth when he discovered how to synthesize oxalic acid from cyanogen in 1824 and later in 1828, also produced urea from inorganic salts potassium cyanate and ammonium sulphate.

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