Organic synthesis is a special branch of chemical synthesis and is concerned with the construction of organic compounds via organic reactions. Organic molecules can often contain a higher level of complexity compared to purely inorganic compounds, so the synthesis of organic compounds has developed into one of the most important branches of organic chemistry. There are two main areas of research fields within the general area of organic synthesis: total synthesis and methodology.
A total synthesis is the complete chemical synthesis of complex organic molecules from simple, commercially available (petrochemical) or natural precursors. In a linear synthesis there is a series of steps which are performed one after another until the molecule is made- this is often adequate for a simple structure. The chemical compounds made in each step are usually referred to as synthetic intermediates.
The "father" of modern organic synthesis is regarded as Robert Burns Woodward, who received the 1965 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for several brilliant examples of total synthesis such as his 1954 synthesis of strychnine.
Asymmetric synthesis, also called chiral synthesis, enantioselective synthesis or stereoselective synthesis, is organic synthesis which introduces one or more new and desired elements of chirality.This is important in the field of pharmaceuticals because the different enantiomers or diastereomers of a molecule often have different biological activity.
There are three main approaches to asymmetric synthesis:
chiral pool synthesis
In practice, a mixture of all three is often used in order to maximize the advantages of each method.
Each step of a synthesis involves a chemical reaction, and reagents and conditions for each of these reactions need to be designed to give a good yield and a pure product, with as little work as possible. A method may already exist in the literature for making one of the early synthetic intermediates, and this method will usually be used rather than "trying to reinvent the wheel". However most intermediates are compounds that have never been made before, and these will normally be made using general methods developed by methodology researchers. To be useful, these methods need to give high yields and to be reliable for a broad range of substrates. Methodology research usually involves three main stages- discovery, optimisation, and studies of scope and limitations. The discovery requires extensive knowledge of and experience with chemical reactivities of appropriate reagents. Optimisation is where one or two starting compounds are tested in the reaction under a wide variety of conditions of temperature, solvent, reaction time, etc., until the optimum conditions for product yield and purity are found.