MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Is cyanide organic or inorganic? Please suggest a text on its chemistry.

Date: Thu Jul 1 14:32:11 1999
Posted By: Dan Berger, Faculty Chemistry/Science, Bluffton College
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 928520459.Ch

Is cyanide organic or inorganic? Please suggest a text on its chemistry.

I am researching cyanide toxicology and need some basic information on cyanide chemistry. Is it organic (because it has a carbon atom) or not? I've reviewed countless organic & inorganic chem texts and come up dry. Thanks.

Cyanide (CN-) is inorganic. When attached to an organic molecule, the CN group does not behave like e.g. NaCN, and is instead called a nitrile.

The toxicity of cyanide is primarily related to its chemistry as an (inorganic) ligand for transition metals. Unfortunately (as an organic-cum-main-group chemist) I'm stumped as to a good textbook on cyanide chemistry. Section 8.8 of the first edition of Greenwood and Earnshaw's Chemistry of the Elements is devoted to the chemistry of cyanides, and section 8.9.1 talks a little about cyanide's chemistry as a ligand for transition metals. Since Greenwood and Earnshaw give extensive references, this is probably the place you should go. Older textbooks of descriptive inorganic chemistry (if you can find them) and newer textbooks on bio-inorganic chemistry should also be helpful.

Incidentally, the photo- and thermal chemistry of cyanides and nitriles is especially fascinating, and that's the focus of Greenwood and Earnshaw's Section 8.8. See also the cover story in the July 1999 Scientific American.

  Dan Berger
  Bluffton College

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