Chemistry Terminology for the Layperson

Acute Toxicity

Negative effects of exposure to a chemical after a single dose in the short term.

Asymmetric Synthesis

Using catalysts or other means to selectively make a single diastereomer or enantiomer when more than one may potentially form.  Synonymous with enantioselective.


A carbonyl is simply a carbon-oxygen double bond.


Any substance that induces the growth of cancerous cells, generally by disrupting the genetic material of otherwise healthy cells.


A carbon atom is chiral if the four substituents attached to it are all different.  A chiral carbon is often referred to as a stereocenter.


A disaccharide sugar is a carbohydrate made of two sugar molecules chained together.  Sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose.


An enantiomer is one structure of a chiral molecule that differs only by opposite configuration of a single stereocenter.  Dextro and Levo methamphetamine are enantiomers.

Enantiomeric Excess

A measure of enantiomeric purity, generally expressed as a percentage.  90% enantiomeric excess means that one enantiomer was formed 9:1 over the other.

Enantiomerically Pure

Opposite of racemic, the compound contains only a single enantiomer.

Hexose sugar

Hexoses are carbohydrate sugars with six (hex) carbon atoms comprising their backbones.


An imine, not to be confused with an amine or an enamine, is simply a fancy term of a carbon-nitrogen double bond.


An intermediate is a short lived, often unstable product in a reaction mixture.  In an oversimplified way, think of it as A+B -> AB -> C, where AB is an intermediate.


The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry is an organization governing standards such as naming conventions in chemistry.

Median Lethal Dose

As the name implies, this is the amount of a substance required to kill off 50% of a test population for a given method of delivery (oral, transdermal, intraperitoneal, intravenous, etc.), generally abbreviated as LD50.


The set of chemical reactions that occurs inside tissue cells to sustain life.  These reactions use enzymes to extract energy from substrates.


Minerals, ions, and vitamins that are required for life, but only in very small amounts, as opposed to macronutrients, of which the body needs large quantities to survive.


Single sugar moleules are referred to as monosaccharides.  Fructose and glucose are monosaccharides.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acid

A fatty acid with only a single double bond in its carbon chain.


A chemical that alters the DNA of an organism, increasing the rate of mutations.  Many mutagens are also carcinogens.


A carbon is prochiral if a single chemical reaction can make it chiral.


A compound is racemic if it has a 50/50 mixture of two enantiomers.

Reductive Amination

Converts a carbonyl to an amine through an imine intermediate.

Synthetic Route

A synthetic route is a path from reactants to products.  Often, the route will involve numerous reactions and purifications.


Teratogens are a subset of mutagens that specifically alter the DNA of developing embryos.

3 thoughts on “Glossary

  1. Pingback: You Are What You Eat | The Unemployed Chemist

  2. Pingback: All Bad Things… | The Unemployed Chemist

  3. How can perillartine C10h15no be converted to methamphetamine or can or will it convert to sudo ephedrine hcl bi means of HI or anhydrous or ??? Just wondering if you may have an answer to this?

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