BioCoach Activity

Concept 3: Organic Molecules: Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons, the simplest organic molecules, contain only carbon and hydrogen atoms.

Because carbon can form simultaneous covalent bonds with up to four partners, an enormous number of carbon compounds are possible. Carbon chemistry is called organic chemistry, to distinguish it from the chemistry of all other elements.

Among the simplest organic compounds are those containing only hydrogen and carbon, or hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons include methane gas (produced and discharged daily from our intestines as flatus), liquid gasoline, and solid paraffin wax in candles.

Methane, still

To the right is a molecule of methane, CH4, in which one atom of carbon shares electrons with four atoms of hydrogen. Our two-dimensional screen can only represent a planar structure, but note that the shaded model portrays the actual three-dimensional structure of methane, in which the four hydrogen atoms are oriented at the vertices of a tetrahedron.