Chemistry is traditionally divided into four sub-disciplines – inorganic, organic, analytical, and physical chemistry. Organic chemistry deals with molecules formed predominantly from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen bonds.Owing to the strength of carbon-carbon bonds, the range and diversity of organic molecules is enormous – literally millions of molecules have been identified. Very long molecules can be made up of much smaller organic building blocks, forming polymers such as the plastics that have become ubiquitous over the last few decades. Because living organisms are made up primarily of organic molecules, organic chemistry forms the molecular foundation of the biological sciences and is intimately linked with pharmaceuticals and drug design.
On the other hand, inorganic chemistry deals with molecules composed of other elements and where carbon-carbon bonds are not as important.Typical examples are many salts, metals, semiconductors, and nanomaterials.Molecules with both metal atoms and organic sections are also biologically important – examples include vitamin molecules, haemoglobin, and chlorophyll. Both organic and inorganic chemistry often involve the synthesis of new materials with particular properties. The property desired in the new compound may be biological activity, as in pharmaceutical compounds, chemical reactivity, or a physical property such as strength, colour, or magnetism.
The analysis and quantification of chemical components of a sample is the function of analytical chemistry.Chemical analysis is increasingly important to ensure the quality of manufactured goods, and in monitoring pollutant concentrations in our air, water, and food.Very low amounts of pollutants (such as mercury or dioxins) can harm human health or the environment. Detecting and quantifying the amounts of these pollutants presents an ongoing intellectual and technical challenge.
Physical chemistry describes the physical properties, energies, and spectra of all types of molecules (whether organic or inorganic), and how rapidly chemical reactions occur. Physical chemists typically use spectroscopy or computational methods to study molecules, surfaces, and chemical reactions. Sophisticated experimental techniques are required to probe complex or fast chemical processes, such as those that occur during combustion or the reactions taking place in the atmosphere.
While the traditional divisions in chemistry remain important, much of the most exciting scientific research is interdisciplinaryin nature.The central status of chemistry means that it intersects with many other scientific and technical fields including physics, biology, pharmacology, materials science, environmental science, and engineering.Indeed, chemistry is absolutely essential to advancing our knowledge at the borders between these disciplines and to produce solutions to contemporary problems. Research groups in the School of Chemistry collaborate closely with many groups in other departments to form a strong core of interdisciplinary research.We have particularly strong interdisciplinary research in materials and nanotechnology, pharmaceutical chemistry, and environmental research.
One of the strengths of the School of Chemistry at UCC is the strong exposure our undergraduate students get to the four core sub-disciplines in chemistry.At the same time, our extensive interdisciplinary work gives our students a wider perspective on the central role of chemistry in cutting-edge science and technology.We believe that this broad and deep training in the molecular structure of nature allows our students to decide which parts of chemistry most interest them, and hence to make informed choices about how to develop their career further.