Organic chemistry is the study of the compounds of the element carbon, compounds which also contain hydrogen and often other non-metal elements like oxygen, nitrogen, the halogens, sulphur, and phosphorus. You might think these ought to be covered by inorganic chemistry just as we learn in inorganic chemistry about compounds formed from sulphur and hydrogen, etc. But there are two reasons for not doing this. The first is historical: in the years before about 1830 it was thought that organic compounds could be made only in plants or animals, that is, in living organisms, and that they contained a mysterious ‘vital force’ in addition to carbon and other chemical elements. Therefore much knowledge was amassed about carbon compounds during that time, but kept separate from knowledge about other compounds. The second reason is practical: carbon forms so many different compounds, often of such complexity, and we now know so much about how they react and what they produce, that we have to study carbon compounds separately. The very obvious danger is that people are tempted never to compare the chemistry of carbon compounds with that of other compounds, or even never to consider there may be a link. But of course there are links, many useful or interesting comparisions can be made, and much exciting work is being done in the ‘inter-disciplinary’ field of study called organometallic chemistry.
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