10 April, 2012

A-Z Blogging Challenge: Inorganic Chemistry

An inorganic compound. Public domain image. SOURCE.
Inorganic chemistry is a branch of chemistry that studies inorganic compounds.

The usual definition of an inorganic compound is that it does not contain carbon. Since there are exceptions to that rule (such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide), some define an inorganic compound as one that contains neither carbon and hydrogen. However, this is not to say there isn't overlap between organic and inorganic chemistry; for example, chemical bonding is the same in both fields, and catalysts can be organic or inorganic.

Inorganic chemicals react with each other in four major ways: through combination reactions (two or more reactants form one product), decomposition reactions (a compound breaks down into two or more elements), single displacement reactions (an atom or ion replaces the atom of another element), and double displacement reactions (also called metathesis reactions; this is when elements from two different compounds replace each other to form new compounds).

Inorganic nitrogen dioxide. Public domain image. SOURCE.
This field has applications in materials science, paints, medicine, farming, surfactants, and fuel. There are also several branches of inorganic chemistry, including physical chemistry (which uses principles from thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, and kinetics), bioinorganic chemistry (study of compounds with metal-carbon bonds in biological systems), and geochemistry (study of chemicals on Earth and other planets). Geochemistry is, in turn, a field that has even more branches like isotope geochemistry, cosmochemistry, and biogeochemistry (study of naturally-occurring chemical, biological, physical, and geological processes).

Notable Chemist:

Paula Diaconescu

Paula Diaconescu obtained a B.S. from the University of Bucharest, Romania, and a Ph.D. in 2003 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, where she worked on uranium complexes. She is currently part of the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

Her research focuses on small molecule activation, organic synthesis, and the formation of polymers.




Do you think that if humans ever encountered life not based on carbon, the definition of "organic" would change?

-----The Golden Eagle 


Rob-bear said...

I always thought that H2S + 2O2 would give you H2SO4 (sulphuric acid). I guess those old rules still apply.
But you make it sound much more fascinating than old chemical reactions.

farawayeyes said...

Still learning. At least this one I can pronounce.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting post for the A-to-Z Challenge. I'm loving coming over, seeing what else you have up your sleeve! :)

Humpty Dumpty said...

There has been speculation on many SciFi shows regarding silicon-based life. Is silicone an inorganic element? If so, then, if there IS life based on this element, then it would go to reason that, yes, I think they would have to change their definition of what is considered organic and inorganic. :)

RaShelle Workman said...

Inorganic Chemistry - whoa!!! I feel smarter just spelling the words. =D

S. L. Hennessy said...

I have more experience with organic chemistry, but this sounds fascinating. It does go sliiiightly over my head though.

Pat Hatt said...

Yeah I think it would change, we think we know it all but as soon as a wrench gets thrown into it, we learn we don't.

Old Kitty said...

Would this have to do with how things break down in practical terms - say how discarded plastic/fuels etc are so hard to break down and therefore not be good for the environment? Sounds like it! But then my brain is feeble and I'm on still on holiday! LOL! Take care

Anthony said...

Interesting information, especially for people without a background in either biology or chemistry. :-)

Mark Noce said...

I always think of O-chem, but inorganic is crucial too. I wish I could just figure out what you call compounds when you start combining elements:)

L.G.Smith said...

I'm glad I read this after my second cup of coffee for the day. :)

You rock on this science stuff! So impressed.

Jennifer Hillier said...

Ooh, love this post! Such a nice change!

Ashamed to admit I flunked chemistry in high school. Never took it again.

The Golden Eagle said...

Rob-bear: Thank you. :) Chemistry is, to me, one of the most interesting fields--I'm glad I could communicate that!

Farawayes: I doubt even I will be saying many of the scientific words in these posts for regular conversation . . . LOL.

Jack: Thank you so much!

Humpty Dumpty: I think the way it works is that silicon is inorganic, while silicone is organic--silicone has hydrogen and carbon.

RaShelle: Cool. I am to turn everyone into science nerds by the end of this Challenge. ;)

S. L.: Hope the basics were still clear, though. I tried to put in as much information as I could, since inorganic chemistry covers so many different subjects.

Pat: Definitely!

Old Kitty: That's certainly part of the issue when it comes to human refuse. Though there are some organisms that are capable of breaking down inorganic materials.

Anthony: I hope you learned something interesting. :)

Mark: A compound is a combination of two or more elements. Water is a compound made out of hydrogen and oxygen, for example; the technical term is dihydrogen monoxide.

Jennifer: Thank you! :)

Debra Harris-Johnson said...

Great post and loved the colorful graphics.

Erin M. Hartshorn said...

Great summary post.

To answer the question you posed: It depends on whether we recognize the non-carbon-based life. I really hope you're going to do xenobiology for X -- I'd love to have some more links to add to my references. Assuming we do recognize it . . . we might wind up with another meaning in the dictionary, sort of in the same way that "organic" means something else when applied to food.


Shallee said...

Fun science-based post for the A-Z challenge! Thanks for sharing.

Theresa Milstein said...

I really struggled with inorganic chemistry.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I think humans are malleable and would change the definition - eventually.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Second time today someone has mentioned hydrogen.

running4him said...

yeah you got it!!

Lynda R Young said...

Would we even recognise life not based on carbon?
But yes to your question.

Krista McLaughlin said...

Wow, complicated. This is why I've avoided science. I'm really impressed by people that understand this. :)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Finally a topic I know a little about!

I think we're finding out more about life all the time, and questioning how to completely define it. When you look at viruses and prions, for example, they're just mind-boggling.

And it wouldn't surprise me if there are non-carbon-based life forms somewhere. Apparently they are theoretically possible.

Beverly Diehl said...

I wonder what we would call the building blocks of other beings, if they fell outside our Periodic Table entirely. Would we add the new elements to the current table, or start a new one for that range?

Interesting ideas here, Eagle.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I wonder if we'll be able to exist in the same conditions with a life form so different from our own. Interesting question.

Nick Wilford said...

If it's life forms on other planets, then presumably they don't have to be anything like us.

Sorry I don't have anything more to add - late here and my brain is shutting down!

Jemi Fraser said...

I think the word is probably too ingrained in our vocabulary - we'll probably just invent a new word for non-carbon based life ... NCBL doesn't have much of a ring to it though :)

Christina Farley said...

Wow. I wouldn't know what to say. It's all very intriguing!

Mark Koopmans said...


Thanks for the follow and am doing the same.

Interesting, easy to read posts - great job :)

Susan Kane said...

My husband loves anything with chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Fortunately, so do I. Thanks!

Rusty Webb said...

No. Probably not. I think we'd call it inorganic life. Which of course would only lead to confusion and misunderstanding. But that's just what humans do, make things complicated.

E.D. said...

Nice post! Refreshing and educational!

Duncan D. Horne - the Kuantan blogger said...

Wow, it's like being at school again! Only this time I'm actually interested in learning!

This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.

Duncan In Kuantan

Melissa Bradley said...

I never knew the difference because often I heard chemistry and tuned out. Now that I'm older, I'm fascinated. And thanks for the spotlight. Another great woman to read up on. :)

Anonymous said...

This takes me back to my college days, when I failed chem 2. It's still interesting, though.

The Golden Eagle said...

Debra: Thank you! Glad you liked the images as well.

Erin: Thanks. :)

Since "exobiology" is sometimes considered the same as "xenobiology" I decided not to use that word for my X post, actually. Sorry to disappoint you!

Shallee: You're welcome. :)

Theresa: Hope this post explained things clearly enough!

Jaye: Though we do tend to stick to our guns a lot of the time. :P

Alex: Really? Now I want to go and find that post!

Running4him: Thanks for coming by!

Lynda: Good question. Who knows what alien/extraterrestrial life would look like . . .

Krista: I do hope I managed to un-complicate it a bit, though. :)

Jennifer: Cool!

I agree. And I mention prions in an upcoming post; they're fascinating little things.

It wouldn't surprise me, either.

Beverly: I'm not sure that there could be life made out of elements beyond the known Periodic Table; the heaviest elements humans have created disintegrated after fractions of a second. And you can't get much lighter than hydrogen--there's only one electron and one proton!

Susan: I don't doubt it would stir up human conflict, that's for sure . . .

Nick: Nope!

Thanks for reading anyway. :)

Jemi: I wouldn't be surprised if we did start calling it NCBl, though. Scientists like their acronyms. LOL.

Christina: I agree. :)

Mark: Thank you for following my blog!

Susan: You're very welcome.

Rusty: Ah, good point. People do have a tendency to make things more complicated than they really need to be . . .

E.D.: Thank you!

Duncan: Good to hear you're interested. :)

Melissa: You're welcome!

I had a lot of fun looking up female scientist. Be sure to come back for my "N" post; I'll be posting a video of a determined woman researcher. :)

Medeia: Well, it's good to know people are still interested in the subject--I'd hate to post about something that bores readers!

Traci Kenworth said...

It's funny how boring you find a subject in school and later in life, you need the same and find it intriguing.

The Golden Eagle said...

Traci: I'm still in school, but I hope I'm just as intrigued by scientific subjects in the future as I am now. :)

Anonymous said...

OK..so much I don't know. Thanks GE (that's not sarcastic: I'm learning a lot from your posts, just not responding every day...kinda hard to just comment about how much I don't know)

The Golden Eagle said...

Stuart: Seriously, no worries. :) I'm just happy I'm not boring everyone with all the science!

Jamie Gibbs said...

Wow, this takes me back to my chemistry days! I didn't really understand it back then, either :P

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Doing a monumental blog catch-up
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