Organic Chemistry as a Second Language: Second Semester Topics 3rd Edition
Did you ever wonder how chemists are able to determine whether or not a reaction has produced the desired products? In your textbook, you will learn about many, many reactions. And an obvious question should be: “how do chemists know that those are the products of the reactions? Until about 50 years ago, it was actually VERY difficult to determine the structures of the products of a reaction. In fact, chemists would often spend many months, or even years to elucidate the structure of a single compound. But things got a lot simpler with the advent of spectroscopy. These days, the structure of a compound can be determined in minutes. Spectroscopy is, without a doubt, one of the most important tools available for determining the structure of a compound. Many Nobel prizes have been awarded over the last few decades to chemists who pioneered applications of spectroscopy.
The basic idea behind all forms of spectroscopy is that electromagnetic radiation (light) can interact with matter in predictable ways. Consider the following simple analogy: imagine that you have 10 friends, and you know what kind of bakery items they each like to eat every morning. John always has a brownie, Peter always has a French roll, Mary always has a blueberry muffin, etc. Now imagine that you walk into the bakery just after it opens, and you are told that some of your friends have already visited the bakery. By looking at what is missing from the bakery, you could figure out which of your friends had just been there. If you see that there is a brownie missing, then you deduce that John was in the bakery before you.
This simple analogy breaks down when you really get into the details of spectroscopy, but the basic idea is a good starting point. When electromagnetic radiation interacts with matter, certain frequencies are absorbed while other frequencies are not. By analyzing which frequencies were absorbed (which frequencies are missing once the light passes through a solution containing the unknown compound), we can glean useful information about the structure of the compound.
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