As I understand organic chemistry there is no simple generalization that allows us to predict reaction outcomes- rather we transform molecules using a sequence of known reactions.

This has me wondering how these known reactions came to be known. My first guess would be that the structure was empirically observed before and after the reaction. If this is the case what instrumentation would be used to observe this?

If not, how else were these reactions determined and if they were not all developed by trial and error, what is the name of the branch of chemistry that deals with hypothesizing them?


closed as too broad by hBy2Py, pentavalentcarbon, ringo, Todd Minehardt, Mithoron Jun 27 '17 at 12:24

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    $\begingroup$ "How do" and "How did" are two completely different, albeit both very good, questions. Voting to close as too broad. Pick one for this question, and if need be ask a new question for the other. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Jun 27 '17 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ Spectroscopy is how they do it. $\endgroup$ – Pritt Balagopal Jun 27 '17 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ My understanding of spectroscopy is that it gave you information about composition, not structure, but I'm still a student so maybe that's not quite right. $\endgroup$ – awiebe Jun 27 '17 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ Nope, spectroscopy can give lots of direct structural information. The first thing that comes to mind is the different 2D NMR techniques. $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Jun 27 '17 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Because other people can describe them better, here's a list to get started, in the order I recall them: NMR, UV-vis, IR, XRC if possible, HPLC-MS, radiography, chemical testing, physical testing. $\endgroup$ – Nij Jun 27 '17 at 5:33

Various crystallographic techniques exist, the lab technique I have used most is x-ray crystallography


Currently I specialize in computational chemistry, which can estimate (with very high accuracy) the geometry of a molecule which gives the lowest energy (aka the equilibrium geoemetry) through a process called geoemetry optimization



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