Foundations of Organic Chemistry

Course No. 1185
Associate Teaching Professor Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D.
Georgetown University
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Course No. 1185
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Take a detailed look at atomic structure and chemical bonding: the roots of organic chemistry.
  • numbers Discern the various types of chemical reactions: substitution, elimination, and addition.
  • numbers Take a biologically-oriented look at the foundations of organic chemistry with carbohydrates and sugars.
  • numbers Learn about purifying by recrystallization, distillation, extraction, and chromatography.

Course Overview

Chemistry is defined as the study of matter and its properties. With regard to this definition, the roots of the study of chemistry can be traced back to more than one ancient civilization. Most notably, the Greeks and Chinese each independently postulated thousands of years ago that there must be a small number of elemental substances from which all other things were created as admixtures. Remarkably, both civilizations theorized that air, earth, water, and fire were among those elements. It was much more recently, however—just about 300 years ago—that famed French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier correctly identified one of the elements experimentally. Lavoisier’s discovery is often cited as the event that heralded the birth of chemistry as a proper science. Theorizing based on observation of natural systems began to give way to controlled testing of the properties of matter, leading to an explosion of understanding, the echoes of which are still ringing in modern-day laboratories.

Organic chemistry is the subject dedicated to the study of a deceptively simple set of molecules—those based on carbon. Even today, centuries after the most basic governing principles of this subject were discovered, many students struggle to make sense of this science. At the university level, professors are often in a race against time to dispense the vast body of knowledge on organic chemistry to their students before semester’s end, leaving little time for discussion of exactly how this information came to be known or of just how new experimentation might change the world we live in. This course endeavors to fill that gap.

As humanity’s understanding of chemistry grew, so did the library of elements that had been isolated and identified, yet even as this library of elements grew, one of the simplest of them—carbon—seemed to play a very special and indispensable role in many small molecules. This was particularly true of the molecules harvested from living organisms. So obvious was the importance of this role that chemists dubbed the study of the fundamental molecules of life “organic chemistry,” a science that today has been expanded to include any molecule relying principally on carbon atoms as its backbone.

In this course, you will investigate the role of carbon in organic molecules—sometimes acting as a reactive site on molecules, sometimes influencing reactive sites on molecules, but always providing structural support for an ever-growing library of both naturally occurring and man-made compounds.

Other elements will join the story, bonding with carbon scaffolds to create compounds with a stunningly broad array of properties. Most notable are the elements hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine, and bromine. The presence of these elements and others in organic chemistry spices up the party, but none of them can replace carbon in its central role.

The goal of this course is to take the uninitiated student on a tour of the development and application of the discipline of organic chemistry, noting some of the most famous minds to dedicate themselves to this science in the past few centuries, such as Dmitry Mendeleev (of periodic table fame), Friedrich Wöhler (the father of modern organic chemistry), and Alfred Nobel (the inventor of dynamite and founder of the most influential scientific prize in the history of humanity). You will also meet some very famous scientists from other fields whose forays into organic chemistry helped shape the science, such as Louis Pasteur of microbiology fame and Michael Faraday, the father of electromagnetism.

Approximately the first half of the course is dedicated to building the foundations of understanding modern organic chemistry. In this portion of the course, you will investigate the structure of the atom, the energetic rationale for chemical bonding between atoms to create compounds, how specific collections of atoms bonded in specific ways create motifs called functional groups, and ultimately the ways in which the bonds in these functional groups form and break in chemical reactions that can be used to convert one compound into another.

Next, you will apply that understanding of organic fundamentals to more complex, but often misunderstood, molecular systems, such as starches, proteins, DNA, and more. In the final portion of the course, you will turn your attention to how organic chemists purify and characterize their new creations in the laboratory, investigating techniques as ancient as distillation and as modern as nuclear magnetic studies.

After completing this course, the successful student will have all of the tools needed to have a meaningful dialogue with a practicing organic chemist about the theory behind his or her work, the interpretation of the results that he or she obtains in the lab, and—most of all—the impact that modern experimentation in organic chemistry might have on the future of humanity.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Carbon?
    Start exploring organic chemistry is foundations with a review of the basic science of chemistry (including atomic structure and the periodic table). Then, get an engaging introduction to organic chemistry: its origin, its evolution, its relationship to carbon, and its fascinating applications in everything from food to fuel to medicine. x
  • 2
    Structure of the Atom and Chemical Bonding
    Take a more detailed look at atomic structure and chemical bonding. What exactly drives an atomís desire to bond? What are the differences between ionic bonds, covalent bonds, and polar covalent bonds? How does the hybridization of atomic orbitals work, and how does it explain the complex geometries of carbon frameworks? x
  • 3
    Drawing Chemical Structures
    Investigate some of the key methods scientists employ to communicate the right structural information about molecular compounds, including their identity, the ratio of elements that comprise them, and their connectivity. Methods youíll explore include Fischer projections, Newman projections, and stereoimagesóall of which help us overcome the challenges of conveying the three-dimensional positions of atoms. x
  • 4
    Drawing Chemical Reactions
    Youíve learned how to depict molecules as they exist at a single point in time. How about as time passes? The answer: much like a cartoonist. Here, learn about this scientific art form, including writing reaction schemes, expanding them into elementary steps, using curved arrows to chart molecular progress, and more. x
  • 5
    Acid-Base Chemistry
    Focus on the first of several fundamental classes of reactions youíll encounter throughout this course: the proton transfer reaction. Youíll learn the three classifications of acids and bases; the Arrhenius, Bronsted-Lowry, and Lewis definitions; how chemists predict proton transfer reaction outcomes; two kinds of intramolecular proton transfer reactions; and more. x
  • 6
    Stereochemistry-Molecular Handedness
    Make sense of a crucial concept in organic chemistry: the handedness of molecules, or, as chemists call it, ìchirality.î Topics include the definition of chiral tetrahedral centers; the creation of stereoisomer sets via inversion of handedness; and intriguing examples of stereoisomers (including enantiomers and double-bonded stereoisomers) and their unique chiral centers. x
  • 7
    Alkanes-The Simplest Hydrocarbons
    Start examining various classes of organic compounds with alkanes, whose hydrocarbons consist entirely of hydrogen and carbon. How can a few simple carbon atoms lead to millions of possible alkane structures? How does structure affect their physical properties? And what curious role did they play in 19th-century whaling? x
  • 8
    Cyclic Alkanes
    Turn now to cyclic alkanes, in which the closing of a loop of carbons forms a whole new class of alkanes with properties all their own. As you learn more about this new class of hydrocarbons, youíll cover the phenomenon of ring strain, the equilibrium between chair conformers, and bicyclic hydrocarbons. x
  • 9
    Alkenes and Alkynes
    How can pi bonds change the chemistry of hydrocarbons? How did one of the greatest rivalries in chemistry lead to an understanding of trends in stability among regio- and stereoisomers with the same molecular formula? Why do terminal alkynes have such unusual acidity? Professor Davis has the answers to these and other questions. x
  • 10
    Alkyl Halides
    Explore alkyl halides, hydrocarbons where one or more hydrogen atoms are replaced by a halogen atom. Youíll examine how larger halogen atoms decrease the volatility of alkyl halides compared to their alkane counterparts (which radically changed the science of refrigeration). Youíll also learn about the reactivity of alkyl halides and the phenomenon of carbocation rearrangements. x
  • 11
    Substitution Reactions
    Investigate substitution reactions: one of the fundamental mechanisms by which one compound becomes another. The simple molecules youíve encountered so far can be altered in targeted ways and once you understand how these reactions work, Professor Davis says youíve reached ìa palpable threshold in the study of organic chemistry.î x
  • 12
    Elimination Reactions
    Cover the second class of organic reaction: eliminations, the primary method for producing alkenes. As youíll learn, elimination reactions proceed with the production of a byproduct formed by the leaving group; in contrast to substitution reactions, they involve a significant increase in entropy because they make more molecules than they consume. x
  • 13
    Addition Reactions
    Complete your mastery of the trifecta of fundamental organic reactions with a lecture on addition, which adds new groups to unsaturated molecules by sacrificing pi bonds for more stable sigma bonds. Youíll explore the basics of addition reactions; the hydrogenation of alkenes and alkines; the ways addition has helped create food additives; and much more. x
  • 14
    Alcohols and Ethers
    In this lecture, consider the important role of oxygen in organic chemistry. Among the topics youíll learn about here: the oxygen atom in sp3 hybridization states; techniques for synthesizing alcohols and ethers; and methods for activating alcohols into more reactive leaving groups (specifically sulfonate esters, phosphinate esters, and tosylates). x
  • 15
    Aldehydes and Ketones
    Continue exploring oxygenís role in organic chemistry. Here, Professor Davis introduces you to the properties and reactivity of two simple carbonyl compounds: aldehydes and ketones. What do we know about these oxygen-containing compounds and their chemistry? And whatís their curious connection with how you feel after a night of heavy drinking? x
  • 16
    Organic Acids and Esters
    Carboxylic acids and esters are two oxygen-containing compounds that possess multiple oxygen atoms with different hybridization states. First, look at two ways to prepare carboxylic acids. Then, examine how Fischer esterification produces esters. Finally, learn about retrosynthetic analysis, a tool that helps organic chemists address synthetic challenges. x
  • 17
    Amines, Imines, and Nitriles
    Turn now to nitrogen, which has played an important role in the chemistry of life since it began. Learn the chemistry of primary, secondary, and tertiary amines, the simplest of nitrogen-containing compounds. Also, consider imines (containing a pi-bond to nitrogen) and nitriles (where two pi bonds are present), including the simplest and most well-known nitrile: hydrogen cyanide. x
  • 18
    Nitrates, Amino Acids, and Amides
    Nitroglycerine, dynamite, TNT. What do these explosives have in common? They all contain highly reactive compounds that combine nitrogen and oxygen in organics. Look closely at these and other materials in this in-depth lecture on functional groups containing nitrogen and oxygen that covers everything from nitrate esters to trinitrotoluene to amino acids. x
  • 19
    Conjugation and the Diels-Alder Reaction
    Start by examining the phenomenon of conjugation involving multiple, resonating pi bonds and the extra stability that they endow on organic compounds. Then, explore two reactions (including one that resulted in a Nobel Prize) involved in conjugated diene reactivity. Finally, spend some time investigating the relationship between frontier molecular orbits and thermally activated reactions. x
  • 20
    Benzene and Aromatic Compounds
    Get better acquainted with benzene and a class of compounds known as aromatics, as well as the role aromaticity plays in dictating the acid-base properties of organics. Also, learn about polynuclear aromatics, buckminsterfullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and carbon fibersóall at the forefront of cutting-edge research going on in labs around the world. x
  • 21
    Modifying Benzene-Aromatic Substitution
    Build on your understanding of aromatics by investigating a very useful class of reactions: electrophilic aromatic substitution. Whatís the general mechanism by which these reactions occur? What are some of the many modifications chemists can make to benzeneóand how can these already modified benzenes be further modified? What role did this reaction play in the synthesis of one of the most infamous organic compounds of all time, DDT? x
  • 22
    Sugars and Carbohydrates
    Start taking a more biologically oriented look at the foundations of organic chemistry by investigating compounds known as carbohydrates. Examine Fischer projections of their two main classes, aldoses and ketoses; learn how cyclic sugars help create disaccharides and polysaccharides used in everything from fruit preserves to body armor; and more. x
  • 23
    DNA and Nucleic Acids
    Professor Davis introduces you to ribose, the central component of both RNA and DNA. Starting from individual molecules and motifs, youíll progressively work your way up toward a full model for the structure of the sub-units involved in our genetic code. This lecture is proof of organic chemistryís powerful role in establishing who you are. x
  • 24
    Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins
    Proteins make up 20 percent of your bodyís mass. They mediate almost every chemical reaction in the human body, and theyíre found in everything from medicine to detergents. Here, make sense of the intricate, beautiful structures and interactions of proteins. Also, take a peek at how theyíre created in labs for further study. x
  • 25
    Metals in Organic Chemistry
    Probe the connections between biology and metals with this lecture on some compounds and reactions in the field of organometallic chemistry. As youíll quickly learn, organometallics have a range of practical applications; one example youíll encounter is Dotarem, an organometallic compound used to help detect tumors in cancer patients. x
  • 26
    Synthetic Polymers
    Complete your survey of organic compounds with the largest organic molecules of all: polymers. To better understand this versatile class of compounds, youíll learn about the two general classes of polymers (addition and condensation), how theyíre designed, and how theyíve changed the world (one example: vulcanized rubber). x
  • 27
    UV-Visible Spectroscopy
    How do organic chemists actually prove the behavior of molecules and chemical structures youíve learned about in the preceding lectures? The answer: spectroscopy, which entails the observation of the interaction between matter and light. In the first of several lectures on the topic, focus specifically on observations made with the UV-visible spectrum. x
  • 28
    Infrared Spectroscopy
    Transition to the other side of the visible spectrum and discover how infrared spectroscopy provides chemists with different information about structures. In doing so, youíll come to see molecular structures in a new light: not as rigid constructs but as dynamic, vibrating frameworks with bonds that can stretch and bend. x
  • 29
    Measuring Handedness with Polarimetry
    Continue your in-depth look at spectroscopy with a focus on the plane polarization of light, and the ability of chiral molecules to rotate plane-polarized light. Who discovered this scientific phenomenon? How is it observed, and with what specific tools? Find out in this lecture that deftly blends science and history. x
  • 30
    Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
    Visit the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for insights into how tiny, atom-sized magnets in organic molecules interact with radio waves (and each other) to produce a complex set of magnetic resonancesówhich are one of the gold-standard identification tools used in modern organic chemistry. Topics include Zeeman splitting, magnetic spin-spin coupling, and multiplets. x
  • 31
    Advanced Spectroscopic Techniques
    In this final lecture on spectroscopic techniques, discover the importance of modern NMR spectrometers, which use superconducting magnets and radio receivers to collect spectra with more speed and precision (and in different ways) than other techniques. Also, get an intriguing lesson in the human elementóand limitationsóinvolved in spectroscopy. x
  • 32
    Purifying by Recrystallization
    How are organic materials purified for both study and practical use? One staple technique is recrystallization, which relies on the tendency of organic molecules to form highly ordered crystals. Topics here include the effect of impurities on organic crystalline solids; the phenomenon of incongruent melting; and more. x
  • 33
    Purifying by Distillation
    Another purification method is distillation, used for producing potable water, refining oil, and more. First, examine the fundamental laws governing this influential chemical technique. Then, get a closer look at distillation apparatuses commonly used for vaporization and condensation. Finally, learn about azeotropesómixtures of liquids that are impossible to distill. x
  • 34
    Purifying by Extraction
    Discover how solubility makes for an extremely effective tool for isolating non-volatile organic compounds through liquid-liquid and solid-liquid extractions (part of a larger phenomenon known as partitioning). As you delve into these processes, youíll learn one way to better understand extractions: making a perfect cup of tea. x
  • 35
    Purifying by Chromatography
    Chromatographyóin which partitioning between stationary and mobile phases leads to predictable rates of movement for compoundsóis one of the most powerful separation techniques ever developed. And, when done properly, it allows chemists to isolate almost anything they can imagine. Witness a technique at the core of Professor Davisís laboratory experience. x
  • 36
    The Future of Organic Chemistry
    Finish the course by peering into the future of this fascinating field. How can groundbreaking chemical advancements help us stave off global famineóand even help us live on other planets? By exploring questions like these, youíll truly understand how organic chemistry can help us build a better world. x

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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 296-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 296-page course synopsis
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  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Ron B. Davis Jr.

About Your Professor

Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D.
Georgetown University
Dr. Ron B. Davis, Jr. is an Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry at Georgetown University, where he has been teaching introductory organic chemistry laboratories since 2008. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to teaching chemistry at the undergraduate level, Professor Davis spent several years as a pharmaceutical research and development chemist. Professor Davis’s...
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Foundations of Organic Chemistry is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 98.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from University Level I have a very basic knowledge of organic chemistry and bought this Great Course to expand my knowledge. There are many interesting details but, on the whole, this course was far too advanced for my purposes. A University Chemistry student would probably benefit from this course. I would not have titled this course "Foundations of Organic Chemistry". A more appropriate title would be "Organic Chemistry - Beyond the Basics".
Date published: 2020-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Slow going for the novice This organic chemistry course is very challenging for the novice. Be prepared for a bewildering assortment of terms you’ve never heard of (and most of them are not even good Scrabble words). He may define a term once, sometimes vaguely, then uses it often as if you’re totally familiar with it. Similarly, he goes over the naming conventions, then starts tossing around the complicated names of various compounds as if of course you know what this is. About halfway through the course, it was becoming gibberish. But that’s not on Prof. Davis. I got some basic concepts, like why carbon is so well suited for its central role. But to keep getting something out of the course meant frequent backtracking to be reminded of the meaning of that word or phrase or compound name. As with his general chemistry course, a glossary would be very valuable. So it’s very slow going. If you really want to get into it, if you’re a novice like me, you may need to use some secondary study aids. Prof. Davis is an engaging lecturer, and his explanations and computer graphics help elucidate dense material. So I'm giving it five starts. But as with the general chemistry course he jams a lot of material into a narrow time frame, so it often seems rushed and cryptic. Again, unless you have a strong background already, be prepared to inch your way through this course and spend a lot of “outside” study time to get something out of it. I also have a couple of minor critiques. There is a misprint in the Guidebook in Lecture 2, where it says “enthalpy” but clearly should be “entropy.” In Lecture 3 Prof. Davis makes the astounding claim that about 500 years ago it started to become obvious that the Earth was round. Five hundred years ago was after Columbus’s first voyage, and it was obvious well before then, as it was to Columbus himself. In fact, it was well known to educated persons by the second century B.C.
Date published: 2020-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation and subject organization This course was simply excellent –well organized and superbly delivered by Prof. Davis. I’m a retired engineer with only a single course of college-level inorganic chemistry under my belt, so this instruction was just what I wanted. In a past life, working for the famed British firm, Imperial Chemical Industries, I had to design computerized controllers for laboratory experiments aimed at understanding catalytic synthesis of ethylene oxide. This involved quadrupole mass spectrometry (QMS) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). Looking back, I could have approached these design problems with far greater understanding had I comprehended this very basic material. For me, this 36-lecture course is a worthy investment of time and money. And one of the most enjoyable aspects is that Prof. Davis provides the historical context: the stories of how inventive chemists developed the underlying theory. HWF, Mesa AZ
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professor I have always been interested in how things work and specifically how the chemistry of organic substances work. Dr. Davis is an incredible instructor. I taught high school biology for many years and I have several degrees and Dr. Davis is the best instructor I have ever had. He is clear thinking, makes great illustrations, explains in such a way that all can understand and on top of all of that has a great since of humor. I would recommend this course to anyone!!
Date published: 2020-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Advanced Chemistry Lectures This lecture series should be considered for students already having a good understanding of Organic Chemistry structures and nomenclature. Not for a student with just a basic education in chemistry. Lectures are well delivered by a very knowledgeable professor. The use of animation helps the student visualize the complex molecular structures. Although much of this material is over my head I am enjoying learning what I can of this complex subject.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from organic chemistry great presentation good intro onto a broad topic.already own over 170 courses since 1999.
Date published: 2020-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great review for the retired scientist. Good speaker, organized presentations, great graphics.
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Instructor is down to earth and understandable I bought this because Orgo was a class I passed in college only because of scaiing. Little did I know my job actually required at least a rudimentary understanding of it. Now I am actually trying to actually learn that which I just wanted to get by years ago and I believe I am to a far greater extent than I did when my GPA was affected.
Date published: 2020-06-06
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