The Art of Orgo

by Lorien E. Menhennett

I have my fourth and final regular Organic Chemistry exam tomorrow on reaction mechanisms. In General Chemistry, we studied basic principles of chemistry, and how to mathematically work out many types of problems, but now we’re actually learning how different reactions happen, why, under what conditions, etc. It’s actually pretty interesting. Especially since there are so many pharmaceutical and biological applications for what we’re studying. Given that I want to do a PhD in Genetics, I know that knowing this will be helpful, at least for some of the graduate-level coursework (i.e., Biochemistry) that I will soon be taking.

In the beginning of the year, I used massive amounts of printer paper for doing practice problems. Then as I was cleaning out the basement of my old house, I rediscovered a giant dry erase board that I had bought years ago. I thought to myself, “We do practice problems on the dry erase boards in class; why not do the same at home?” So I lugged the dry erase board to my apartment, bought a big set of colored dry erase markers, and started drawing.

To my surprise, I found that I actually enjoyed doing the problems — drawing things out larger, and using different colors to symbolize bond cleavage and formation (for example) really helped me see the bigger “picture,” so to speak. So that’s how I’ve done my orgo homework ever since.

My drawing board has been especially helpful with reaction mechanisms — these problems have multiple steps, multiple bond breakings/makings, and having a large surface area (and again, many colors to differentiate things) has really made a difference in my learning process.

For kicks and giggles (and to further illustrate my nerdiness, not that that takes much doing), I’ve taken a picture of a practice problem from my textbook that I worked out on my dry erase board.

I know I’m not a doctor (yet), but if looking at this gives you a headache, I recommend taking two Aleve (a.k.a. naproxen sodium) and lying down for about 15 minutes. The blurred vision and pounding will go away soon, I promise.

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