A Chemical Monument

Prior to the 1800’s the chemical community had a defined line separating organic and inorganic chemistry. Organic compounds originated from living things, such as mussel tissue; and inorganic compounds originated from non-living things, such as rocks and sediment. Chemists were under the understanding that these two chemistries were separate entities, and compounds from one could not be derived from compounds of the other. In this day and age, this line is not as clearly seen as it once was. This is because of one simple compound: Urea.

Urea was first synthesized by Friedrich Wöhler, a German chemist, in 1828. What made this synthesis incredibly unique and groundbreaking was that it was an organic molecule being synthesized from inorganic starting materials. This synthesis was properly named, the Wöhler synthesis:

AgNCO (silver isocyanate)+ NH4Cl (ammonium chloride) → (NH2)2CO (urea) + AgCl (silver chloride)

From the synthesis of Urea, the line between organic and inorganic chemistry became less definitive; opening up new doors to both chemistries.

In human physiology, urea is produced by the kidneys. It’s job is to carry waste nitrogen out of the body, and also plays a role in the reabsorption of water. In agriculture and the environment, urea plays a direct role in the nitrogen cycle; allowing for the release of nitrogen in soils, which is essential for plant growth; urea is now a Urea also plays a major role in material chemistry, being a vital material of some plastic manufacturing processes, adhesives in plywood, and explosives.

So whether you are enjoying a fresh tomato from the Potsdam Co-op, an evening playing Starcraft 2 on a laptop with a plastic casing, building a treehouse with plywood flooring, or simply enjoying the fact that your body is well hydrated, we can all agree that we have Urea to thank for these, once unimaginable, components of our daily lives.

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