Inorganic Chemistry Definition and Introduction

What You Need to Know About Inorganic Chemistry

Inorganic chemistry includes materials science, coating, pigments, and catalysts.
Inorganic chemistry includes materials science, coating, pigments, and catalysts. Maartje van Caspel / Getty Images

Inorganic chemistry is defined as the study of the chemistry of materials from non-biological origins. Typically, this refers to materials not containing carbon-hydrogen bonds, including metals, salts, and minerals. Inorganic chemistry is used to study and develop catalysts, coatings, fuels, surfactants, materials, superconductors, and drugs. Important chemical reactions in inorganic chemistry include double displacement reactions, acid-base reactions, and redox reactions.

In contrast, chemistry of compounds that contain C-H bonds is called organic chemistry. The organometallic compounds overlap both organic and inorganic chemistry. Organometallic compounds typically include a metal directly bonded to a carbon atom.

The first man-made inorganic compound of commercial significance to be synthesized was ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate was made using the Haber process, for use as a soil fertilizer.

Properties of Inorganic Compounds

Because the class of inorganic compounds is vast, it's difficult to generalize their properties. However, many inorganics are ionic compounds, containing cations and anions joined by ionic bonds. Classes of these salts include oxide, halides, sulfates, and carbonates. Another way to classify inorganic compounds is as main group compounds, coordination compounds, transition metal compounds, cluster compounds, organometallic compounds, solid state compounds, and bioinorganic compounds.

Many inorganic compounds are poor electrical and thermal conductors as solids, have high melting points, and readily assume crystalline structures. Some are soluble in water, while others are not. Usually the positive and negative electrical charges balance out to form neutral compounds. Inorganic chemicals are common in nature as minerals and electrolytes.

What Inorganic Chemists Do

Inorganic chemists are found in a wide variety of fields. They may study materials, learn ways to synthesize them, develop practical applications and products, teach, and reduce the environmental impact of inorganic compounds. Examples of industries that hire inorganic chemists include government agencies, mines, electronics companies, and chemical companies. Closely related disciplines include materials science and physics.

Becoming an inorganic chemist generally involves gaining a graduate degree (Masters or Doctorate). Most inorganic chemists pursue a degree in chemistry in college.

Companies That Hire Inorganic Chemists

An example of a government agency that hires inorganic chemists is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Albemarle, and Celanese are companies that use inorganic chemistry to develop new fibers and polymers. Because electronics are based on metals and silicon, inorganic chemistry is key in the design of microchips and integrated circuits. Companies that focus in this area include Texas Instruments, Samsung, Intel, AMD, and Agilent. Glidden Paints, DuPont, The Valspar Corporation, and Continental Chemical are companies that apply inorganic chemistry to make pigments, coatings, and paint.

Inorganic chemistry is used in mining and ore processing through the formation of finished metals and ceramics. Companies that focus on this work include Vale, Glencore, Suncor, Shenhua Group, and BHP Billiton.

Inorganic Chemistry Journals and Publications

There are numerous publications devoted to advances in inorganic chemistry. Journals include Inorganic Chemistry, Polyhedron, Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Dalton Transactions, and Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Japan.