|Fields of Inorganic Chemistry
Fields of Inorganic Chemistry
Inorganic chemistry, which is the study of the
structure and reactivity of inorganic compounds, overlaps with other branches of
chemistry, such as
physical chemistry and
analytical chemistry. Physical chemists develop and use instruments to probe
the physical properties (such as
crystallography) of compounds as well as the behavior of chemical systems.
Analytical chemists work to determine the unknown chemical constituents of
substances and the relative amounts of these constituents.
Inorganic chemistry is often divided into the
subfields of solid-state chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and bioinorganic
chemistry. While solid-state chemistry stays more within the bounds of
traditional inorganic chemistry research, organometallic chemistry and
bioinorganic chemistry overlap with organic chemistry and biology, respectively.
Research in solid-state chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and bioinorganic
chemistry is leading to progress in areas such as
superconductivity, microchip development, and cancer research.
Solid-state chemists study the structure and
properties of inorganic compounds to fabricate new, more useful materials. For
example, solid-state chemists are working to develop high-temperature pliable
ceramics capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1370° C (2500° F). These
high-temperature ceramics may someday be used to make automobile engines that
produce little pollution and are highly fuel-efficient.
High-temperature ceramics might also be used
someday as superconductors—materials that exhibit no resistance to electric
current. Superconductors made from high-temperature ceramics might be used in
supercomputers (powerful computers used to solve extremely complex
problems), in medical diagnostic equipment such as
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and to transmit electricity without loss
of electrical power.
Inorganic chemists are making rapid advances in
the development of new inorganic
polymers. Polymers are usually large, organic molecules that make up
substances such as proteins, rubber, and plastics. Most plastics consist of
organic polymers made up of extremely long carbon chains. Current research has
produced inorganic polymers known as polyphosphazenes, which consist of long
chains of alternating nitrogen and phosphorus atoms. Polyphosphazenes may
eventually be used in the medical field to provide materials for artificial
blood vessels, limbs, and joints.
Chemists have found that changing the side groups
of atoms attached to these nitrogen-phosphorus chains forms
plastics that possess unique properties, such as the ability for a plastic
pill capsule to time-release ingested drugs into the circulatory system. Another
inorganic polymer, polysulfurnitride, consists of alternating sulfur and
nitrogen atoms. This polymer conducts electricity and becomes a superconductor
at the temperature of –273° C (-460° F). However, because polysulfurnitride is
unstable, it is not currently used in practical applications.
An extremely active area of research in recent
years is the study of organometallic chemicals—compounds that consist of
transition metals bonded to organic chemical groups. Examples of organometallic
complexes include iron pentacarbonyl [Fe(CO)5], ferrocene [Fe(C5H5)2],
and phenylmagnesium bromide (C6H5MgBr). Organometallic
compounds are used to produce semiconductor wafers, to form highly protective
coatings on steel tools (such as high-speed drills), and as extremely selective
catalysts in certain organic compound syntheses.
Biological Inorganic Chemistry
Biological inorganic (bioinorganic) chemists
research the role of metals in living systems. One area of investigation is the
role of metals in the human body, such as how oxygen binds reversibly to the
iron in red blood cells. Bioinorganic chemists also study how specific
transition metals might be used in drugs to fight certain diseases. For example,
scientists are experimenting with platinum complexes as anticancer drugs.