So much of our life relies on chemistry. Organic chemistry gives us pharmaceuticals, dyes and detergents — just to name a few. Physical chemistry looks at how matter behaves on an atomic level. Biochemistry focuses on processes within living organisms, including humans. Plus, analytical chemistry deals with the “maybes” and “what ifs” of the field. Of the five branches, one we tend to take for granted is inorganic chemistry, which looks at interactions that don’t involve carbon atoms. Let’s take a closer look at this branch and what it takes to study this field.
What Is Inorganic Chemistry?
The dictionary defines this subsect of chemistry as a branch that deals with inorganic chemicals. Yet this doesn’t help us understand every aspect of the science.
Carbon is one of the most common elements on the planet. It’s literally the stuff of life. The units of DNA — the body’s roadmap — are nucleotides, and nucleotides consist of a 5-carbon sugar, a nitrogen-containing base and a phosphate group. Chemical reactions that involve carbon or have carbon atoms present fall under organic chemistry.
However, the majority of reactions are inorganic. This branch of chemistry covers every response where carbon isn’t present. If you’ve ever made a spewing volcano by mixing baking soda and vinegar, for example, you’ve experimented with inorganic chemistry. Beyond elementary school science, where is this branch applied?
Where Is Inorganic Chemistry Used?
Scientists are aware of thousands of inorganic compounds, including one you can find in your kitchen right now. NaCl, sodium chloride, is better known as table salt. Oxides, like rust, are another example of inorganic reactions.
Experts use inorganic compounds as catalysts, coatings, medicines, fuels and more. They often have high melting points and low conductivity points, making them useful for specific purposes.
Ammonia, for example, is an inorganic chemical used in the production of fibers, plastics and polyurethanes. Chlorine is used to manufacture agrochemicals — like fertilizer and insecticide — and pharmaceuticals. Plus, corporations use titanium dioxide, the naturally occurring oxide of titanium, as a pigment in paints, papers, inks, food and cosmetics.
Many industries across the globe rely on this chemistry. Where can you find a career if you’re fascinated with the field?
A Career in Inorganic Chemistry
Inorganic chemists appear in several different industries, from the government to technology.
If you like working with computers, this branch gives you the skills needed to create the chips and integrated circuits that make them work. If you prefer an artistic career, companies that create paints and coatings frequently hire chemists to help them design the next generation of decor.
This type of chemistry even appears in mining and metal processing industries. Chemists help companies identify the most efficient ways to mine ore from the earth. They’ll also consider how to turn the ore into workable ingots without losing a lot of the base material.
If you want to work as an inorganic chemist, you’ll need to study math, science and chemistry. Once you choose an area to specialize in, you can focus on subjects like element synthesis, reactions and structures. You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to gain an entry-level position in the field, though a master’s or Ph.D. can further your career.
DIY Inorganic Chemistry Experiments
You don’t need a degree to dabble in inorganic chemistry. Discover a few easy experiments with things you might already have in your kitchen or garage.
Make Your Own Snow
With borax, a natural pest killer, you can make snowflakes or other crystal shapes, experimenting with creating a solution. Make a snowflake out of pipe cleaners, small enough that you can suspend it in a mason jar. Boil some water and mix in borax — three tablespoons for each cup of water. For young scientists-in-training, get parental permission before dealing with boiling water.
Once you dissolve the borax entirely, hang your pipe cleaner shape in the mason jar and pour your solution over it. Then, leave it overnight. When you come back in the morning, you’ll have a gorgeous crystalized design to decorate with. Hang them in your window or on your Christmas tree. Plus, since they contain borax, they’ll naturally repel pests!
Conduct a Flame Test
If you’ve got access to chemicals — and adult supervision — the flame test is an integral part of inorganic chemistry. This experiment is fun, because, to detect an element’s “fingerprint,” chemists set them on fire and see what color they burn.
Other than each chemical, you’ll need an ethanol base and a source of flame. For some tests, you’ll want a dim environment or a room where you can shut off the light, as the color is very subtle.
Do you want to recreate the colors of the rainbow? If so, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Lithium: Found inside batteries, this metal burns pink.
- Potassium: Found in the gardening section of hardware stores, this chemical burns purple.
- Copper: As with boric acid, it can be found in the gardening section and burns green.
- Calcium: Head to the gardening or vitamin section for a mineral that burns red.
The chemicals listed above are easy to find, even if you don’t have access to a classroom. Plus, you don’t have to restrict yourself to these four ideas. Try out different elements and see which colors they burn. Don’t forget to have a journal nearby so you can jot down your findings.
When you perform experiments, be sure to work in a well-ventilated space. The first test is fun, but it can release fumes that aren’t safe to inhale. For extra safety, consider wearing a dust mask or respirator. You can find the right equipment in the painting aisle of any hardware store.
What You Need to Know About Inorganic Chemistry
Organic chemistry studies life. Yet inorganic chemistry is essential because it studies everything else.
Everything from the circuit board in your phone to the salt on your table falls under this branch. Take a look around your house and see what else you can find.