July 19, 2004
Volume 82, Number 29
p. 32

  Back To The Roots Of Organic Chemistry

ORGANIC CHEMISTRY PRINCIPLES AND INDUSTRIAL PRACTICE, by Mark M. Green and Harold A. Wittcoff, Wiley-VCH, 2003, 321 pages, $39 (paperback) (ISBN 3-527-30289-1)




Imagine this as your task: Process 100 million tons of crude oil into formulated grades of fuel for less than the cost per gallon of milk. Not interesting?

Then divert 6% of this stream into ethylene, propylene, and benzene to make more than two dozen high-quality plastics for pennies a pound. Still not impressed?

Then take another 1% cut of the flow and develop a fine chemicals catalog of hundreds of bulk reagents that form the pool from which thousands of pharmaceutical and personal care products are produced safely and cost-effectively. How much chemistry do you need to know to handle this task?

That is the challenge of a prosperous chemical industry, and it's founded on organic chemistry principles taught, often without examples from industrial practice, in every introductory organic chemistry class. Polytechnic University's Mark M. Green and Harold A. Wittcoff of Nexant-ChemSystems are keenly aware of this common oversight, and they did something about it in their new book, "Organic Chemistry Principles and Industrial Practices."

The book is not an evaluation of technology in society, but rather a supplemental text for a normal chemistry curriculum. Green and Wittcoff address head-on the chemical and economic issues that impinge upon the production of petroleum, plastics, and bulk chemicals. They also provide insight on how the well-being of corporate enterprises can, through a deep understanding of chemistry, complement the well-being of society and the global environment.

The authors' narrative style makes the book an easy read, and one hardly notices the constant underlying teaching that occurs through the charming stories they relate. The material is simple enough so that those with a good organic chemistry background will know the principles, but they may be surprised to learn about many of the applications. In contrast, one can imagine the benefit of the book for chemists who entered the profession as technical workers but have not learned the theoretical aspects of chemistry that academics behind ivy walls take for granted.

From a quick look at Robert T. Morrison and Robert N. Boyd's first- or second-edition organic texts, one would see that this connection was a part of the teaching of organic chemistry some 40 years ago. Green and Wittcoff do a nice job of bringing these two worlds together again.

This is a great book to have on one's shelf. It's interesting to read and useful for teaching at a variety of levels. As a paperback, it is affordable for all.

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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