Tell Me About Your Problems…

by James

in Teaching

because I want to hear about them. Org 1, Org 2, MCAT, DAT – it doesn’t matter. Send them. Having trouble with a question in organic chemistry? Send it to me – I’d like to start a regular feature on the blog where I go over problems in detail.

A problem is your instructor’s way of evaluating how well you understand the concepts in the course. Every problem reveals a little facet of organic chemistry and contains a lesson that will help towards the eventual goal of being able to see the big picture. The key challenge is to to the problems mindfully and discover what that little nugget is. My goal is to show how to break these problems down and help students see how they illustrate the key concepts.

So let’s have ’em! Drop me a line at james at … or leave a comment.

By the way, in case you weren’t aware of this, there are also some good online forums for answering organic chemistry problems. Chemical Forums has an online forum for organic chemistry problems. SDN has a considerable population of premeds (and current meds) who can help (mostly MCAT and DAT type questions, but still useful.) There is also an online forum at Curved Arrow Press which gets some traffic.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


For a student just starting to learn Chemistry. How do I relate Pure Chemistry to Applied Chemistry, and can you give me examples of each?
what exactly is Chemistry ? as compared to Biology?



I haven’t heard the terms Pure and Applied chemistry for a long time; I don’t know if that’s because they’re becoming less common, or because as you study chemistry for longer and longer people don’t care so much about the distinction. This isn’t something I’ve ever tried to define, but I’ll have a go:

It seems to me when people say ‘Pure Chemistry’ they’re talking about research for the sake of increasing human knowledge of an element, class of compounds, chemical reaction etc. I’m a synthetic organic chemist so for me it means just asking ‘I wonder if I can make…’. I guess that means that Applied Chemistry is trying to squeeze some benefit out of Pure Chemistry research by using it for real world applications. Kinda like pure and applied maths.

The problem is, nowadays it’s very hard to get any money to do Pure Chemistry research, because when governments hand out grants to scientists they tend to want some kind of promise of tangible gains, rather than just generating ideas or information. This maybe why the term’s not so common any more. And anyway, it’s not a really useful distinction as all the best scientists I known are all intently curious people always asking ‘what next?’ or ‘what can I do with this?’.

This may be a bit of an advanced example, but many years ago a friend of mine was working on an unusual and unstudied class of organic compounds with rather a lot of nitrogen in. Not for any real reason, but just because nobody was sure if you could make them, or how. Pure chemical research. Many years later, a very effective anti-cancer drug was developed ( Temazomolide) by some other chemists. It had a very similar structure to the compounds my friend had been making. He’d just been making very small amounts of these molecules in the lab, out of curiosity, to see what they’d be like and if he could. Now the guys who discovered the drug needed to produce large amounts of these compounds to give to people. They read my friend’s research and then set about taking the chemistry he’d been doing in a flask no bigger than a 1/2 pint glass and adapting it for use on an industrial scale – applied chemistry.



I recently had my first orgo exam, and one of the concepts that I have trouble visceralizing is Hammond’s Postulate. I can follow the explanation in my textbook (L.G. Wade, Jr. 7th edition), but I don’t really grasp it. Is there an alternative intuitive explanation? Thanks so much!

It seems to come back a few times in the next chapter about SN1,SN2, E1, and E2 reactions. :/



This is a common question, I should write a post about this soon. It needs pictures.


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