Organic Chemistry - Characterization


Since organic compounds often exist as mixtures, a variety of techniques have also been developed to assess purity, especially important being chromatography techniques such as HPLC and gas chromatography. Traditional methods of separation include distillation, crystallization, and solvent extraction.

Organic compounds were traditionally characterized by a variety of chemical tests, called "wet methods", but such tests have been largely displaced by spectroscopic or other computer-intensive methods of analysis. Listed in approximate order of utility, the chief analytical methods are:

  • Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is the most commonly used technique, often permitting complete assignment of atom connectivity and even stereochemistry using correlation spectroscopy. The principal constituent atoms of organic chemistry - hydrogen and carbon - exist naturally with NMR-responsive isotopes, respectively 1H and 13C.
  • Elemental analysis: A destructive method used to determine the elemental composition of a molecule. See also mass spectrometry, below.
  • Mass spectrometry indicates the molecular weight of a compound and, from the fragmentation patterns, its structure. High resolution mass spectrometry can usually identify the exact formula of a compound and is used in lieu of elemental analysis. In former times, mass spectrometry was restricted to neutral molecules exhibiting some volatility, but advanced ionization techniques allow one to obtain the "mass spec" of virtually any organic compound.
  • Crystallography is an unambiguous method for determining molecular geometry, the proviso being that single crystals of the material must be available and the crystal must be representative of the sample. Highly automated software allows a structure to be determined within hours of obtaining a suitable crystal.

Traditional spectroscopic methods such as infrared spectroscopy, optical rotation, UV/VIS spectroscopy provide relatively nonspecific structural information but remain in use for specific classes of compounds.

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