Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

1.1: What is Inorganic Chemistry?

  • Page ID
  • Where did the name "Inorganic Chemistry" come from? Well, the term "Organic Chemistry" literally means the chemistry of life. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based molecules because the first molecules that were isolated from living organisms contained carbon. On the other hand, minerals and other non-living things seemed to be made of other elements. For some time in our history, scientists believed that the chemical difference between living and non-living things was carbon. So, if "organic" molecules are the molecules of life, then is "inorganic chemistry" the "chemistry of death"? Almost? "Inorganic" chemistry historically meant the chemistry of "non-living" things; and these were non-carbon based molecules and ions.

    The names "organic" and "inorganic" come from science history, and still today a generally-accepted definition of Inorganic Chemistry is the study of non-carbon molecules, or all the elements on the periodic table except carbon (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). But, this definition is not completely correct because the field of Inorganic Chemistry also includes organometallic compounds and the study of some carbon-based molecules that have properties that are familiar to metals (like conduction of electricity). This makes the field of inorganic chemistry very broad, and practically limitless. A great way to understand the breadth of the field is to take a look at the abstracts in the latest article of Inorganic Chemistry. Or, check out the 20 most-read articles from this past year using the links below.

    Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 3.26.17 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). An illustration of the historic meaning of "organic" and "inorganic". The modern understanding of organic and inorganic chemistry is not consistent with these historical meanings.

    External links:


    What are the Sub-Fields of Inorganic Chemistry?

    To appreciate the breadth of Inorganic Chemistry, go to the most recent issue of Inorganic Chemistry and look at the titles and visual abstracts. Identify at least 4 sub-fields of Inorganic Chemistry.


    There are a lot of correct answers here! The point here is that you notice that Inorganic Chemistry is a very broad field. It has something for almost everyone because many other fields overlap with Inorganic Chemistry. You might notice that some of the sub-fields you identified are also interdisciplinary fields between inorganic chemistry and another discipline. For a list of some of the subfields of Inorganic Chemistry, check this Wikipedia article.

    • Was this article helpful?