Chemistry Question #1562

David Magill, a 22 year old male from Shippensburg asks on September 8, 2003,

In 1828, Friedrich Wohler, a German chemist attempted to make an inorganic salt, ammonium cyanate, by mixing solutions of ammonium and cyanate, he was surprised to find that he made urea, an organic compound present in the urine of animals. Are the "ingredients" for all organic compounds found this way, in essence, by trial and error? Or do chemists of today have more sophisticated methods of determining which compounds combine to make an organic compound?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on September 10, 2003

They have more sophisticated methods today, but accidents and serendipity still play a role in the discovery of new chemicals. There are many theories of chemical bonding and rules of synthesis. Many things are now known about how certain chemicals and chemicaly reactive groups will interact with each other. Chemists can now also use complex mathematical models of chemical bonding and simulate these interactions on computers to anticipate how things will react, or how certain compounds will associate with others in solution, or at reactive sites.

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