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An organic chemistry laboratory will typically be home to a wide variety of electrical equipment that may appear intimidating to an outsider looking in. This article will provide a general overview of some of the most commonly used laboratory equipment found in an organic chemistry laboratory.
What is Organic Chemistry?
Organic chemistry is a scientific area of study that is used to describe the structure, properties, composition, reactions and preparation of all chemical compounds containing the element carbon. Some of the primary industries that utilize organic chemistry for their research and development purposes include the pharmaceutical, petrochemical, food, biotechnology, and cosmetic industries. The laboratory equipment utilized by organic chemists can be separated into five major categories, which include:
- General laboratory techniques
Chromatography is an important organic chemistry technique that allows researchers to separate, identify and purify the components present within a given mixture for analysis purposes. The basic principle behind any chromatography technique is that the molecules of a mixture are placed onto the surface of a solid material, which is otherwise referred to as the stationary phase. The mobile phase of this technique is a liquid or gaseous component that assists in the separation of the molecules within the mixture along the stationary phase.
Some of the most common chromatography methods that will be utilized in an organic chemistry lab include column, ion-exchange, affinity, paper, thin-layer, gas and high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), to name a few. Each of these laboratory techniques requires a variety of different supplies and equipment to be performed. For example, thin-layer chromatography (TLC) utilizes an absorbent material like alumina, silica gel or cellulose as its stationary phase that is placed within a glass container or plate for the separation procedure. Comparatively, HPLC requires an HPLC device that is equipped with a solvent depot, high-pressure pump, and commercially prepared column that is suitable for the researcher’s specific project, detector, recorder and a computerized system that is used to record all obtained measurements.
The crystallization technique is utilized in organic chemistry to purify solid compounds. The basic principle behind any crystallization procedure is that a compound will tend to be more soluble in a hot liquid as compared to when it is placed in a cold liquid. After being placed in the hot solution, the solutes of the original compound will form purified crystals while excluding any impurities from the newly formed solid crystals. Crystallization can be performed using either water, a single solvent or multiple solvents, depending upon the specific requirements of a given compound.
Some of the equipment typically used for a crystallization experiment can include a tank crystallizer, scraped surface crystallizer, forced circulating liquid evaporator-crystallizer, circulating magma vacuum crystallizer, draft tube baffled (DTB) crystallizer, or a fluidized bed crystallizer. Of all crystallizer equipment, the forced circulation (FC) crystallizer is considered to be the simplest and most robust, whereas fluidized bed crystallizers are considered to be more complex and less robust.
Organic chemists will often utilize extraction techniques in order to separate and transfer specific compounds from a mixture into a different solvent or phase. The most commonly used extraction technique is liquid-liquid extraction, which involves the use of a separatory funnel. A compound of interest is placed directly into the funnel that contains a mixture of two liquid layers that are typically a mixture of an aqueous solution and an organic solvent. Since the organic solvent is immiscible, the specific components of the original compound will move from either the aqueous or organic layer, depending on their hydrophilicity or hydrophobicity, respectively.
In addition to a separation funnel, other types of equipment that can be used for extraction purposes in an organic chemistry lab include packed columns, mixer-settlers, and centrifugal contactors.
Sources and Further Reading