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Memorizing vs. Learning–Organic Chemistry Nomenclature.

I got a good question from a student recently:  “Should I memorize this or not?”

To be breif on this introduction, there are two types of students: memorizers and learners.  Which is better?  Both are a good, but being a combination of the two is the best.  That being said, there are certain times where one is essential.  Nomenclature is one of those.

Meth – 1

Eth – 2

Prop – 3

But -4

Pent – 5

Hex – 6

Hept – 7

Oct – 8

Non – 9

Dec – 10

If you memorize these now, you will save yourself a world of trouble down the road.  So, in conclusion, I am not a HUGE fan of memorization, but this is one instance where it is a good idea.

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For good results in your Organic Chemistry Lab class

Hey Guys–

 So when I was teaching, the one thing that I always heard was: “O-chem lab is a waste.  It is a ton of work for only one credit.”  I am not going to lie to anyone about this; yes, it is alot of work for that miniscule credit that (frankly) few people are going to care about.  I have been told, however, that medical schools DO care about o-chem lab.  So if you are one of those aspiring students who hopes one day to be abused as a resident at a busy hospital working 100 hour work weeks but not having quite as much fun as those crazy kids on the hit TV show “Scrubs”, you care about organic chemistry lab.

 Now here is the way to an easier time in organic chemistry lab:

1) Pre-lab preparation–  this is the most underrated portion of what goes on.  Go to my favorite site www.chemfinder.com and print out information on every chemical you are going to use and bring it to lab with you that day.  It will be a great resource to refer to when you need it and will keep you from saying to your already cranky TA, whose English is iffy at best: “Does this look right?”

2) Post-lab write up:  The biggest mistakes here are bad calculations and spending too much time writing things that your TA is never going to read.  When calculating things like % yield/recovery of your product, remember that you CAN have a yield over 100%.  This is usually due to impurity in your final product and is most likely that you did not remove all of the solvent sued, which makes your product heavier.  The key is to be concise, and make sure that the process of your calculations is correct.

While this quickie blog post is NOT going to turn that guy who is a lab disaster into a Nobel prize winner, they are the most commonly made mistakes.  Keep it all in mind next time you head into the great unknown which is o-chem lab. 

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Tips for writing organic chemistry lab reports

As to properly reference the authors, here is a guide from Lynchburg College on how to write a science report well.

A Few General Characteristics of Good Writing in Chemistry

1.  Clear.  This is perhaps the most important characteristic of all writing, but is especially important when detailed, complicated experimental data is discussed.  Be sure you say what you mean and mean what you say.   Use short sentences and get to the point.

2.  Dispassionate.  Good scientific writing is free of bias and personal opinion.  Report the facts.

3.  Mechanically sound.  This goes without saying.  If your writing is free of grammatical and spelling errors, it is easier for the reader to understand.

4.  Documented.  Statements and conclusions are supported by data, not feelings or opinions.  If your data are inconclusive, it is better to state this than to force the data to fit some hypothesis or literature value.

Other hints and suggestions for written work in chemistry:

    • Do not use first person (“I,” “we,” etc.). Use the past tense (you did the experiment already).
    • Do not be verbose.  Get to the point!
    • Do not start a sentence with a number unless it is part of a chemical name.
    • Do not capitalize the names of chemicals unless you are beginning a sentence.
    • Do not use the words or phrases “basically,” “dealt with,” “dealing with,” “create(d).” Leave bases to baseball and solutions with pH > 7; leave dealing to Las Vegas and Atlantic City; and leave creating to the Fine Arts department.
    • Regardless of  what your spell-checker says, “absorbency” is not a word unless we are analyzing diapers.  Always use “absorbance.”
    • Do not say things like “the goal of this experiment was to introduce to the student the technique of chromatography.”  Say “Carotenoids were purified using chromatography.” Leave the student out of the discussion.  Everyone knows you are a student. Tell the reader what you DID and HOW you did it.
    • Use the words “precise” and “accurate” correctly.  Accuracy refers to how close your value is to the standard or known value.  Precision refers to how close together your results are; data cannot be precise unless you have done more than one trial.
    • Use the words “clear” and “colorless” correctly.  Water is clear and colorless.  Sunglasses are clear and green.  Milk is cloudy and colorless (white).  Muddy water is cloudy and brown.
  • Report data and results with units and with the appropriate number of significant figures.
  • Do not include statements of opinion.  For example, stating that the experiment was difficult or tedious is your opinion and does not belong in a reporting of the results of your study.
  • The literature value of a physical property is just that; it is not the “literary” value.
  • Use numbered endnotes for referencing.  You need to reference anything you have to look up, even if it is in your textbook, the lab manual, or the CRC handbook or Aldrich catalog.
  • Please run the spell-checker.
  • Please staple together the pages of your reports.

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