Inorganic chemistry is the branch of chemistry concerned with the properties and behavior of inorganic compounds. This field covers all chemical compounds except the myriad organic compounds (compounds containing C-H bonds), which are the subjects of organic chemistry. The distinction between the two disciplines is far from absolute, and there is much overlap, most importantly in the sub-discipline of organometallic chemistry.
The bulk of inorganic compounds occur as salts, the combination of cations and anions joined by ionic bonding. Examples of cations are sodium Na+, and magnesium Mg2+ and examples of anions are oxide O2− and chloride Cl−. As salts are neutrally charged, these ions form compounds such as sodium oxide Na2O or magnesium chloride MgCl2. The ions are described by their oxidation state and their ease of formation can be inferred from the ionization potential (for cations) or from the electron affinity (anions) of the parent elements.
Important classes of inorganic compounds are the oxides, the carbonates, the sulfates and the halides. Many inorganic compounds are characterized by high melting points. Inorganic salts typically are poor conductors in the solid state. Another important feature is their solubility in e.g. water (see: solubility chart), and ease of crystallization. Where some salts (e.g. NaCl) are very soluble in water, others (e.g. SiO2) are not.
The simplest inorganic reaction is double displacement when in mixing of two salts the ions are swapped without a change in oxidation state. In redox reactions one reactant, the oxidant, lowers its oxidation state and another reactant, the reductant, has its oxidation state increased. The net result is an exchange of electrons. Electron exchange can occur indirectly as well, e.g. in batteries, a key concept in electrochemistry.
When one reactant contains hydrogen atoms, a reaction can take place by exchanging protons in acid-base chemistry. In a more general definition, an acid can be any chemical species capable of binding to electron pairs is called a Lewis acid; conversely any molecule that tends to donate an electron pair is referred to as a Lewis base. As a refinement of acid-base interactions, the HSAB theory takes into account polarizability and size of ions.
Inorganic compounds are found in nature as minerals. Soil may contain iron sulfide as pyrite or calcium sulfate as gypsum. Inorganic compounds are also found multitasking as biomolecules: as electrolytes (sodium chloride), in energy storage (ATP) or in construction (the polyphosphate backbone in DNA).
The first important man-made inorganic compound was ammonium nitrite for soil fertilization through the Haber process. Inorganic compounds are synthesized for use as catalysts such as vanadium(V) oxide and titanium(III) chloride, or as reagents in organic chemistry such as lithium aluminium hydride.
Subdivisions of inorganic chemistry are organometallic chemistry, cluster chemistry and bioinorganic chemistry. These fields are active areas of research in inorganic chemistry, aimed toward new catalysts, superconductors, and therapies.
The manufacturing of fertilisers is another practical application of industrial inorganic chemistry.
Different classifications are:
Classical coordination compounds feature metals bound to "lone pairs" of electrons residing on the main group atoms of ligands such as H2O, NH3, Cl−, and CN−. In modern coordination compounds almost all organic and inorganic compounds can be used as ligands. The "metal" usually is a metal from the groups 3-13, as well as the trans-lanthanides and trans-actinides, but from a certain perspective, all chemical compounds can be described as coordination complexes.
The stereochemistry of coordination complexes can be quite rich, as hinted at by Werner's separation of two enantiomers of [[hexol|[Co((OH)2Co(NH3)4)3]6+]], an early demonstration that chirality is not inherent to organic compounds. A topical theme within this specialization is supramolecular coordination chemistry.
These species feature elements from groups 1, 2 and 13-18 (excluding hydrogen) of the periodic table. Due to their often similar reactivity, the elements in group 3 (Sc, Y, and La) and group 12 (Zn, Cd, and Hg) are also generally included.
Main group compounds have been known since the beginnings of chemistry, e.g. elemental sulfur and the distillable white phosphorus. Experiments on oxygen, O2, by Lavoisier and Priestley not only identified an important diatomic gas, but opened the way for describing compounds and reactions according to stoichiometric ratios. The discovery of a practical synthesis of ammonia using iron catalysts by Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber in the early 1900’s deeply impacted mankind, demonstrating the significance of inorganic chemical synthesis. Typical main group compounds are SiO2, SnCl4, and N2O. Many main group compounds can also be classed as “organometallic”, as they contain organic groups, e.g. B(CH3)3). Main group compounds also occur in nature, e.g. phosphate in DNA, and therefore may be classed as bioinorganic. Conversely, organic compounds lacking (many) hydrogen ligands can be classed as “inorganic”, such as the fullerenes, buckytubes and binary carbon oxides.
Compounds containing metals from group 4 to 11 are considered transition metal compounds. Compounds with a metal from group 3 or 12 are sometimes also incorporated into this group, but also often classified as main group compounds.
Transition metal compounds show a rich coordination chemistry, varying from tetrahedral for titanium (e.g. TiCl4) to square planar for some nickel complexes to octahedral for coordination complexes of cobalt. A range of transition metals can be found in biologically important compounds, such as iron in hemoglobin.
Usually, organometallic compounds are considered to contain the M-C-H group. The metal (M) in these species can either be a main group element or a transition metal. Operationally, the definition of an organometallic compound is more relaxed to include also highly lipophilic complexes such as metal carbonyls and even metal alkoxides.
Organometallic compounds are mainly considered a special category because organic ligands are often sensitive to hydrolysis or oxidation, necessitating that organometallic chemistry employs more specialized preparative methods than was traditional in Werner-type complexes. Synthetic methodology, especially the ability to manipulate complexes in solvents of low coordinating power, enabled the exploration of very weakly coordinating ligands such as hydrocarbons, H2, and N2. Because the ligands are petrochemicals in some sense, the area of organometallic chemistry has greatly benefited from its relevance to industry.
Clusters can be found in all classes of chemical compounds. According to the commonly accepted definition, a cluster consists minimally of a triangular set of atoms that are directly bonded to each other. But metal-metal bonded dimetallic complexes are highly relevant to the area. Clusters occur in "pure" inorganic systems, organometallic chemistry, main group chemistry, and bioinorganic chemistry. The distinction between very large clusters and bulk solids is increasingly blurred. This interface is the chemical basis of nanoscience or nanotechnology and specifically arise from the study of quantum size effects in cadmium selenide clusters. Thus, large clusters can be described as an array of bound atoms intermediate in character between a molecule and a solid.
See also Bioorganometallic chemistry
By definition, these compounds occur in nature, but the subfield includes anthropogenic species, such as pollutants (e.g. methylmercury) and drugs (e.g. Cisplatin). The field, which incorporates many aspects of biochemistry, includes many kinds of compounds, e.g. the phosphates in DNA, and also metal complexes containing ligands that range from biological macromolecules, commonly peptides, to ill-defined species such as humic acid, and to water (e.g. coordinated to gadolinium complexes employed for MRI). Traditionally bioinorganic chemistry focuses on electron- and energy-transfer in proteins relevant to respiration. Medicinal inorganic chemistry includes the study of both non-essential and essential elements with applications to diagnosis and therapies.
This important area focuses on structure, bonding, and the physical properties of materials. In practice, solid state inorganic chemistry uses techniques such as crystallography to gain an understanding of the properties that result from collective interactions between the subunits of the solid. Included in solid state chemistry are metals and their alloys or intermetallic derivatives. Related fields are condensed matter physics, mineralogy, and materials science.
Exceptions to theories, qualitative and quantitative, are extremely important in the development of the field. For example, CuII2(OAc)4(H2O)2 is almost diamagnetic below room temperature whereas Crystal Field Theory predicts that the molecule would have two unpaired electrons. The disagreement between qualitative theory (paramagnetic) and observation (diamagnetic) led to the development of models for "magnetic coupling." These improved models led to the development of new magnetic materials and new technologies.
A central construct in inorganic chemistry is the theory of molecular symmetry. Mathematical group theory provides the language to describe the shapes of molecules according to their "point group symmetry". Group theory also enables factoring and simplification of theoretical calculations.
Spectroscopic features are analyzed and described with respect to the symmetry properties of the, inter alia, vibrational or electronic states. Knowledge of the symmetry properties of the ground and excited states allows one to predict the numbers and intensities of absorptions in vibrational and electronic spectra. A classic application of Group Theory is the prediction of the number of C-O vibrations in substituted metal carbonyl complexes. The most common applications of symmetry to spectroscopy involve vibrational and electronic spectra.
An overarching aspect of mechanistic transition metal chemistry is the kinetic lability of the complex illustrated by the exchange of free and bound water in the prototypical complexes [M(H2O)6]n+:
Commonly encountered techniques are:
Inorganic synthetic methods can be classified roughly according the volatility or solubility of the component reactants. Soluble inorganic compounds are prepared using methods of organic synthesis. For metal-containing compounds that are reactive toward air, Schlenk line and glove box techniques are followed. Volatile compounds and gases are manipulated in “vacuum manifolds” consisting of glass piping interconnected through valves, the entirety of which can be evacuated to 0.001 mm Hg or less. Compounds are condensed using liquid nitrogen (b.p. 78K) or other cryogens. Solids are typically prepared using tube furnaces, the reactants and products being sealed in containers, often made of fused silica (amorphous SiO2) but sometimes more specialized materials such as welded Ta tubes or Pt “boats”. Products and reactants are transported between temperature zones to drive reactions.