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Reaction Maps

Today let’s talk about one final tactic for learning how to do organic synthesis.


On a personal note, a little over 10 years ago I was stuck in Beirut, Lebanon, in a small hotel by the sea. I’d been backpacking through the Middle East for 5 months and had an old, tattered copy of “Organic Chemistry” by Cram that I picked up from a friend in Jerusalem. When I wasn’t hanging out at local cafes eating shish taouk and yummy Lebanese pastries, I read through that book. Afterwards,  I started mapping out all the different reactions. In the end, I got this:

After I did this, so much of organic chemistry started making sense. I could see how all the reactions connected to each other, and how the functional groups could interconvert. It was one of the most valuable things I ever did.

(Look how many reactions involve alcohols or alkenes! these are the lynchpin functional groups of organic chemistry)


Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. You get caught up in all these tiny little reactions and lose track of where you are. It’s so much easier to visualize places when you can look at them on a single sheet of paper.


Make a Reaction Map. You’ll be glad you did.

There are two reaction maps out there that I know of.

1. Adam at the Chemistry Blog made a huge Reaction Map. You can see it here.

2. I made a simplified Reaction Map that also tried to put everything in perspective. You can download it here.

The nice thing about synthesis is that the key thing is just getting there. For our purposes,  efficiency is nice, but not crucial. Whether you fly directly (do it in one step) or take the backroads (4 or 5 steps), as long as you get to the final destination, it’s all good.


Thanks for reading! James