Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Organic Chemistry Bites its Own Tongue

nanouflage and the Uroboros as Aromatic carbon ring

The passage into the world of odorant information, upon treading only a short distance, one is soon met with the gauntlet of lexico-mania that is Organic Chemistry. To this day, any attempt to organize smell is incomplete at best.

Of all the chemicals there are to know about, the only ones we can smell also happen to be the most complex. The sub-discipline of organic chemistry was not initiated until well-after the groundwork was down for chemistry proper. The study of organic molecules therein falls so far out of the range of inorganic chemistry and yet still far enough away from biology, it finds itself in need of its own category.

Chemistry, as science-sounding as it seems – is the logical progression of Alchemy, which is more like a hybrid of religion and science. In this way, the history and the vocabulary that make up organic chemistry are filled with mythologies and half-truths. The very advent of the double-carbon bond was revealed to chemist August Kekulé in a vision of a Uroboros. Nostradamus is credited with the first method for making Benzoic Acid, precursor to Kekulé‘s Benzene-ring, or Aromatic ring, and itself a concept which characterizes the entirety of organic molecules.

If it is clarification one seeks through the lens of chemistry, then perhaps one should reconsider. Aroma compounds are volatile, they change into other compounds under certain conditions, some as simple as oxidation. When isolated and stabilized these compounds can be identified by certain properties and hence can be given a name. But this is where the problems really begin. Of the infinite number of organic molecules, each one can have almost one dozen names.

Let us view one as an example: Sotolone, the smell of burnt sugar, maple syrup, curry or fenugreek, and a component of coffee aroma and roasted tobacco. It is officially known as 4,5-Dimethyl-3-hydroxy-2,5-dihydrofuran-2-one, but more informally called Caramel furanone, Sugar lactone, or Fenugreek lactone. It has a “formula name” of C6H8O3, which refers to the molecules that make it. There are even “names” that take the form of 3-D structures, required by the massive complexity of these molecules. One can only imagine the margin of error in some publicly-available repository of odorant-information.

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