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Course FAQ: Organic Chemistry

July 21, 2013

Q. Just what exactly is organic chemistry?

A. In the early days of chemistry, scientists found they could extract interesting compounds from substances sourced from living systems, such as butter, animal fat and so on. For this reason, these isolated chemicals generally became known as “organic.”. Today, organic chemistry is more generally considered to be the study of chemicals which are primarily based on carbon (although there are a few exceptions, such as carbon dioxide, which is not considered organic). The vast majority of chemicals are organic by this definition, including vitamins, proteins, pesticides, plastics and many others.

Organic chemistry involves understanding the structures and names of these compounds as well as how they react and how they are synthesized.

Cadbury's creme eggs. How do they get that yolk such a bright yellow?

Cadbury’s creme eggs. How do they get that yolk such a bright yellow?

Q. Why do we study organic chemistry?

A. In many ways, organic chemistry is the gateway to the study of many other sciences, including biochemistry and biology. A good knowledge of the basics of organic chemistry lets you understand how living systems function, since biological systems are mostly made of organic compounds.

In addition, many industrial processes are essentially organic chemistry. The paint and coating, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries all involve organic reactions, for example.

As well, some knowledge of organic chemistry is also useful in just about any field of science for practical reasons. A lot of organic compounds are used as solvents, for example, so its helpful to know the difference between ethanol, methanol and isopropanol.

Q. What do we learn in the lectures?

A. All kinds of things! We begin with a brief study of how organic molecules are put together, by talking about bonding and electron structures. We then learn how to name organic compounds using the formal naming system devised by IUPAC.

As well, we learn about the most common reactions of organic chemicals. We’ll discuss how some everyday organic compounds are made, such as polyethylene, aspirin and 2,4-D.

The fascinating effects of isomerism are also considered. Isomers are chemicals which have the same atoms but different properties depending on how the atoms are put together. For a good intro to isomerism, check out this video.

Finally, the course also teaches the theory and practice of some common lab techniques, such as distillation.

Q. What about labs?

A. There are five to six lab sessions in each of the two organic chemistry courses. In these labs, you will apply the theory and see the results in action. Experiments include synthesizing interesting chemicals, such as a bright red dye (an azo dye: see the photo above and the note below!). You will also learn many standard organic lab techniques, such as distillation, recrystallization and melting point analysis. If you ever wanted to start making moonshine whiskey in your backyard shed, this is your starting point! (just kidding, please don’t start making moonshine in your shed.)

Q. Is it tough?

A. Organic chemistry can be challenging, but it’s doable! The subject matter is not extremely difficult, but it requires dedication and good study habits since there is a bit of memorization required in some places to be able to use the nomenclature system and also to recall the various reactions. However, if you can remember that positive and negative charges attract each other, you have just conquered about half of organic chemistry.

Note: the image shows Cadbury’s Easter Creme Eggs, which were recently involved in a scandal when the treat was found to contain an azo dye after the company had promised to remove it.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Chemical and Biosciences Co-op Diploma Program …

June 21, 2013

Q. What does the Chemical and Biosciences Co-op Diploma program prepare students to do?

A. Our program trains students to work as technicians or technologists in a wide variety of corporate or government testing and research laboratory settings, as well as in other science-based environments, such as in the chemical, pharmaceutical or food processing industries. Students learn a range of skills, incorporating both chemistry and biology and, as a result, they may find work in many different fields and organizations, carrying out many different duties.

The following job descriptions are taken from the Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists:

Things that Chemical technicians and technologists do at work are:

  • Set up and conduct chemical experiments, tests and analyses using techniques such as chromatography, spectroscopy, physical and chemical separation techniques and microscopy.
  • Operate and maintain laboratory equipment and apparatus and prepare solutions of gas or liquid, reagents, and sample formulations.
  • Compile records and interpret experimental or analytical results.
  • Develop and conduct programs of sampling and analysis to maintain quality standards of raw materials, chemical intermediates and products.
  • Assist in the development of chemical engineering processes, studies of chemical engineering procurement, construction, inspection and maintenance and the development of standards, procedures and health and safety measures
  • Operate experimental chemical or petrochemical pilot plants.
  • Conduct or assist in air and water quality testing and assessments, environmental monitoring and protection activities and in the development of and compliance with standards.
  • Assist in the design and fabrication of experimental apparatus.

Things that biological technicians and technologists do at work are:

  • Conduct or assist in biological, microbiological and biochemical tests and laboratory analyses in support of quality control in food production, sanitation, pharmaceutical production and other fields.
  • Perform or assist in experimental procedures in agriculture, plant breeding, animal husbandry, biology and biomedical research.
  • Conduct field research and surveys to collect data and samples of water, soil, plant and animal populations.
  • Conduct or assist in environmental monitoring and compliance activities for the protection of fisheries stock, wildlife and other natural resources.
  • Conduct or supervise operational programs such as fish hatchery, greenhouse and livestock production programs.
  • Analyze data and prepare reports.

Q. How does your program differ from a university BSc program?

A. Our program differs in a few important ways. For one thing, our program is compressed to two years, whereas a BSc is typically three or four years in length. This allows students to get out into the workforce as soon as possible and also reduces the overall cost of the educational process.

As well, although we teach a significant amount of theory, our main focus is on providing students with the applied skills that they need to make an immediate contribution to their employer. Our instructors typically have worked for years in industry or government before joining the college, and so we have a good understanding of the skills that are necessary for a successful career.

Q. How does the co-op portion of the program work?

A. During the first eight months of each year, students attend classes. During the last four months of each year, students typically work for an employer, which not only provides valuable  experience and contacts, as well as income, but also counts towards the credits necessary for graduation. For obvious reasons, we can’t force employers to hire students, and so we can’t guarantee that every student will receive a co-op placement, but our program does have a dedicated co-op coordinator whose job involves identifying suitable employers and communicating job opportunities to students. Our instructors also work closely with students to provide the skills and coaching necessary to write great resumes and to interview well. It is rare for a student who puts a reasonable amount of effort into their job search not to find co-op employment.

Q. Where do your students end up working?

A. All over the place! Our students have been hired by the City of Winnipeg, as well as by Health Canada. Many students find work at one of the numerous pharmaceutical organizations in Winnipeg. We also have students working in research labs, such as the St. Boniface Research Center. Others find employment in the painting and coatings, plastics or aerospace industries while still others are hired by food or agriculture businesses.

Q. What can I expect to earn as a graduate?

Over the last few years, students have earned an average annual starting salary of about $37,000 immediately after graduation. Some students have reported starting salaries as high as $50,000, but those students may already have had other degrees or experience.

A 2013 survey by the Manitoba chapter of CCTT found that the average salary of someone working in Manitoba as a technologist with a college diploma was about $75,000. This higher salary reflects the compensation that technologists typically receive later in their careers.

Q. What are my chances of finding employment coming out of the program?

Pretty good! On average, about 80% of students find employment in their field of study immediately following the program. Approximately another 10% go on to further educational studies.

Q. What do your students say about the program?

Each year, the college surveys graduating students and asks for their opinion of the program. For the last four years, 100% of students who responded to the survey said that they were satisfied or very satisfied! Over the last 15 years, the average satisfaction rate has been 95%!