The chemistry found in food is fascinating; it’s what we eat that gives us life, after all. When you learn about the chemical compositions of different foods, you tend to crave the items that are rich in those compounds. That craving can be satisfied by incorporating more organic meals into your diet. This is the concept that underpins general organic chemistry as a distinct area of study within chemical engineering.

Organic Chemistry Defined

In general chemistry, the term “organic” is used to describe the study of carbon chains and their interactions, either as neutral hydrocarbons or as compounds containing oxygen. The study of organic molecules is known as organic chemistry, and the compounds that make up these molecules are termed organic compounds or just chemicals.

An important concept to grasp is that organic chemistry is the study of carbon-containing compounds, or organic compounds for short. This term merely refers to the fact that carbon is the element that gives rise to these compounds; all of the other elements found in living things are present in smaller quantities. For example, silicon is an element found in abundance in rocks, and is also present in some animals and plants. However, it is always combined with other elements in lesser quantities, and is not the main focus of organic chemistry.

Why Study Organic Chemistry?

There are several reasons why an engineering student might choose to specialize in organic chemistry. First off, organic compounds are vital to human life. Almost all of the chemicals required for human life can be found in organic molecules, which are also the basis of most foods. Some examples of these chemicals are proteins, fatty acids, and nucleic acids (the building blocks of DNA). If you’re interested in the applications of chemistry, then you’ve probably already figured out that a large amount of chemistry is performed on a daily basis, mostly for food processing and manufacture of pharmaceuticals.

Another important aspect of organic chemistry is that it is a relatively young area of science. In 17th century France, for example, Pierre-Simon Laplace published the first organized treatise on organic chemistry. Since that time, the field has continued to grow, with many complex areas still remaining unexplored.

Organic Chemistry Applications

If you choose to specialize in organic chemistry, you will gain experience in several important areas of application. A few examples of these are:

  • Manufacturing – Your work might involve making chemicals or pharmaceuticals from organic molecules, which means you’ll get experience in several areas of chemical engineering including organic synthesis and purification
  • Food Processing – As mentioned above, almost all of the chemicals we need for life can be found in organic molecules, and so much of our food is damaged or destroyed during the processing stage. You will carry out many laboratory experiments, including fractionation, distillation, and extraction and purification of these compounds
  • Energy Production – During the production stage, chemicals are either converted into other compounds or used directly as an energy source
  • Environment – Organic chemistry is essential in the study of environmental contamination, especially since many chemicals are highly toxic and so persistent in the environment

Which Areas of Organic Chemistry to Specialize In?

Since there are so many areas of organic chemistry, it’s important to choose which one you’ll focus on. In general, this will depend on your personal interests. If you’re a chemistry fan, then you might want to specialize in biochemistry or mechanism. Alternatively, if you’re more of the practical type and want to apply your knowledge, then you could specialize in food processing or energy production. Finally, if you’re more of the theoretical type, then you might want to choose organic synthesis or purification as your area of study.

How is Organic Chemistry Different From General Chemistry?

In terms of the general chemistry curriculum, you’ll study the same materials covered in a typical high school chemistry course. What’s different is that you’ll study them in an organic context. This means that you’ll learn about the unique properties of carbon-based molecules, rather than just studying them as part of a larger group.

One of the biggest differences between general chemistry and organic chemistry is in how the two subjects are taught. In general chemistry, you’ll learn the same concepts, but you’ll learn these concepts in a non-organics context. For example, when you learn about atoms in general chemistry, you’ll encounter molecules containing carbon as part of a discussion on the periodic table, but you’ll learn this concept in a chemical context, not an organic one.

Another important distinction is how written tests and exams are constructed in the two subjects. In general chemistry, you’ll write several short-answer questions concerning general chemistry principles. For example, a question might ask you to explain the formation of carbonic acid. In contrast, the test in an organic chemistry class will consist of a series of long-answer questions on the topic covered in the course. This is another important distinction between the two subjects.

Organic Chemistry at George Mason University

Organic chemistry is one of the most popular areas of specialization for chemical engineering students, and there’s a good reason why. George Mason University is known for its diverse population, high employment rate, and great location near the nation’s capital. It also has a top-notch organic chemistry program.

One of the unique things about the GMU organic chemistry program is that it prepares you not only for a career in academia or industry, but also for a life in science. The program fosters this holistic approach by placing a high emphasis on both sides of the chemistry equation – on the science and how to conduct experiments, as well as on the theory and how to analyze data. In addition to preparing you for a scientific career, the program equips you with the skills necessary for finding success in any profession, including engineering.


If you’re looking for a career in the chemical industry, then an organic chemistry degree might not be the best choice. This is because the field is relatively small, with many jobs available for those who graduate. If, however, you want to pursue an academic career or want to be part of the scientific community, then an organic chemistry degree could be the ticket to that professional life.