Synthetic organic chemistry is an applied science as it borders engineering, the "design, analysis, and/or construction of works for practical purposes". Organic synthesis of a novel compound is a problem solving task, where a synthesis is designed for a target molecule by selecting optimal reactions from optimal starting materials. Complex compounds can have tens of reaction steps that sequentially build the desired molecule. The synthesis proceeds by utilizing the reactivity of the functional groups in the molecule. For example, a carbonyl compound can be used as a nucleophile by converting it into an enolate, or as an electrophile; the combination of the two is called the aldol reaction. Designing practically useful syntheses always requires conducting the actual synthesis in the laboratory. The scientific practice of creating novel synthetic routes for complex molecules is called total synthesis.
There are several strategies to design a synthesis. The modern method of retrosynthesis, developed by E.J. Corey, starts with the target molecule and splices it to pieces according to known reactions. The pieces, or the proposed precursors, receive the same treatment, until available and ideally inexpensive starting materials are reached. Then, the retrosynthesis is written in the opposite direction to give the synthesis. A "synthetic tree" can be constructed, because each compound and also each precursor has multiple syntheses.
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