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Is there any course that students complain about more than organic chemistry, “tormenter of young souls, perennial weeder of would-be doctors“? It’s been described as a beast that violates young students, and makes you sadder than you felt after watching Hotel Rwanda.

But then you hear other students describe it as “over-hyped”, “not a big deal”, and “a paper tiger“.

What do the students in the second group know that those in the first group don’t?


The Master Organic Chemistry Story

Hi, I’m James Ashenhurst. I founded Master Organic Chemistry to help understand the factors that make learning organic chemistry difficult, and help put this image of it as a scary subject to rest.

In 2005. I was a Ph.D. chemistry student spending more time than I should discovering the new organic chemistry blogosphere.  Remembering my own difficult journey in learning organic chemistry – and watching students struggle with it first hand as a TA –  I had an idea. Because the textbook sometimes doesn’t go into enough detail –  and sometimes you don’t want to ask your professor all these questions – someone should build a friendly resource for organic chemistry students that combined the fun of Tenderbutton with the rigor of Not Voodoo.

But that someone couldn’t be me at the time because there was a lot of lab research I had to do.

Several years later, after finishing my Ph.D. and a successful 2-year postdoc at MIT, I moved to Jerusalem to join my wife after over 6 years of long distance (science can be like that). To earn some extra money on the side, I started tutoring organic chemistry.  Not finding many clients who wanted to be tutored in English (Hebrew is the lingua franca)  in January 2010 I had the idea of using Skype – common now, but unusual at the time – for organic chemistry tutoring.

To get tutoring clients, I dusted off that idea for an organic chemistry website. I started writing articles about organic chemistry and posting it on a wordpress blog I named “Orgo Hacks”, which later changed to “Master Organic Chemistry”.

Things were slow at first. but people gradually spread the word about the high quality of articles on the site that weren’t available anywhere else. That, and writing articles showing how to use cats to teach organic chemistry. From there, students found out about my tutoring service.

The next few years was all about tutoring – thousands of hours worth.

Every session with a student led to new ideas for posts. Having spent the past 10 years around expert organic chemists, I was re-learning all the little problems that students have on their way to learning organic chemistry – things that, as an expert, I’d taken for granted. Like the fact that students often can’t see which bonds form and break in a reaction. Or have trouble interpreting line diagrams. Or are unsure if there is a difference between CH3 and H3C

Now, 4 years and hundreds of articles later, MOC is one of the most popular chemistry websites in the world with millions of visitors per year.

Hundreds of articles are available for free. Unlike sites such as Khan Academy, MOC is a business and must support itself (hosting isn’t cheap!). So it is supported by guides such as:

and many more planned or under development.

The Mission of Master Organic Chemistry

The mission of Master Organic Chemistry is:

  • to provide friendly (and sometimes irreverent) student-centered articles
  • to understand the factors vital to student success in organic chemistry
  • to address the problems people have in learning organic that nobody ever talks about
  • to be a trusted secondary resource for learning organic chemistry
  • to be the world’s best online resource for learning organic chemistry. 

Organic chemistry is becoming more, not less important.  50, 100, or even 500 years from now, people will still need to learn about the Fischer Esterification, the Diels-Alder reaction, and the mechanism of the SN2 reaction, among others. MOC aims to be the premier resource for learning organic chemistry for many years to come.

MOC has been featured on Chemical & Engineering News, MixergyBlog-Aid.net, and BoingBoing

I hope you find Master Organic Chemistry useful!

– James