UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 3, March 1996

Organic Chemistry Software from Tasmania

Adrian Blackman

Organic chemistry at the University of Tasmania has long been taught to undergraduates with the aid of computers and some of this software has been released shareware. One such package called Torganal is a simulation of qualitative organic analysis. Another, Taspec-pmr, is a demonstration version of one of a set of programs used to produce electronic slides for a lecture course on organic spectroscopy. Both are suitable for use at about the second year level of a university chemistry course.

"I would strongly recommend this program as a very useful precursor to an organic unknowns exercise in either 2nd or 3rd year." DG Hewitt - Chemistry in Australia, page 226, May, 1993.

"...TORGANAL would be a useful resource for anyone who wishes for software to support courses on organic analysis. It is user friendly, well structured and clearly presented. ...it represents excellent value for money..." M. Atlay - Software Reviews, pages 20-21, vol 7, 1993 (CTI Centre for Chemistry, University of Liverpool)."


Qualitative organic analysis involves identifying an unknown compound. Why simulate this procedure? Identification of unknown compounds plays an important part in most organic chemistry laboratory courses. Since there are many millions of compounds and a wide variety of possible chemical reactions and measurements that could be made this can be daunting for a student. To identify an unknown compound a small number of reactions and measurements has to be selected in a logical manner, carried out in the laboratory and then interpreted. Students therefore have to plan a logical approach, use chemical reactions, and obtain and interpret physical measurements including spectroscopic data. By using a computer simulation of this process students are able to discover and rehearse the strategy of identifying an organic unknown in a situation free from the additional uncertainties of performing unfamiliar laboratory work and then relying on the results. Once a logical approach has been developed, identification of an unknown compound can be undertaken in the laboratory with more confidence and efficiency. This program is designed to enhance, and certainly NOT replace, practical chemistry laboratory work.

Organic compounds are identified usually by determining the functional group(s) present and then selecting the correct compound from those listed in a table of compounds having that functional group. Functional groups are mostly determined by a combination of chemical tests and interpretation of spectroscopic data. Many of the chemical `functional group tests' can be arranged logically into a hierarchy where a more general test is to be done before a more detailed one. Hence, the more specific one should only be performed if the more general one has given a positive result. For example, a test for a nitro group should only be done if nitrogen has been shown to be present and should not be attempted if it has been revealed that nitrogen is absent. Even if there is no prescribed general test, the test in question may be precluded by the result of another test which has already been disclosed. To take an example, it is inappropriate to perform a test for a phenol if this functional group is precluded by an infrared spectrum which has been revealed. A computer program which simulates the process of organic analysis can encourage a logical approach by checking that these requirements are met; furthermore should the response not be understood then context sensitive help can be given.

"Torganal" -- Tasmanian organic analysis -- has been developed to meet these requirements. The simulation is designed to be used as a pre-laboratory exercise and not to replace the actual laboratory work of identifying organic unknowns. The major aim is to encourage students to develop a logical approach by allowing them to explore the interrelationships between tests, and between tests and revealed data (including spectra). The program is easy to use with pull-down menus. A mouse may be used to minimise keyboard activity. Customisation of the program by the supervisor is possible.

Each year Torganal is utilised by hundreds of students throughout the world since the program is in use in numerous universities in Australia and overseas. The first shareware version (3.10) of Torganal was made available in January, 1992 and version 4.0 has just been released. The shareware version is fully functional. Institutions (or individuals) wishing to use the program have to pay a fee and then receive a registered copy (and other material).


Computer based material has also been developed as an aid to lecturing organic chemistry at both first and second year level. This takes the form of `multimedia' electronic slides for display in a lecture theatre on a large screen using a video projector or LCD panel and overhead projector. The slides have been used for several years as visual aids for a lecturer who can provide accompanying verbal explanations. Although they are not intended for direct use by students without the associated lecture course, the slides are sufficiently self-explanatory to allow them to be used independently.

The slides have been carefully designed to be visible under projection conditions. They have a consistent appearance and style. Minimum use has been made of (what I consider to be) distracting gimmicks. Many of the slides use the `build' principle whereby new information appears to be added to the previous slide thereby allowing progressive development of a topic. Since each module is also made available to students in the course for private study (either in the department's computer laboratory or for copying to a floppy disk for use elsewhere) one important design criterion has been to make each one a self-contained program (executable file) and limited in size to < 1.4 MB.

The slides are in the form of sets of programs. A demonstration version of one of these has been released as shareware. Taspec-pmr (tpmrj20.exe) is one such program from a set for teaching a nine lecture course of introductory spectroscopy to second year organic chemistry students. The particular program is devoted to a brief introduction to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy that is followed by a detailed look at proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The complete set of seven spectroscopy programs containing over 250 slides is available for purchase. A similar styled set of two programs about organic stereochemistry (over 80 slides for three lectures) is also available. Other topics are in the course of development and refinement.

Adrian Blackman



Requirements: PC; DOS (also runs under Windows); 640K RAM; EGA graphics. The shareware version may be downloaded from the SimTel repository: archie.au/micros/pc/SimTel/ msdos/chemstry/torg400.zip

Cost: Site licence:$200; $20 for individual students; Trial version: free.


Requirements: PC; Windows; VGA graphics. The shareware version may be downloaded from the SimTel repository: archie.au/micros/pc/ SimTel/win3/ chem/tpmrd20.zip

Cost: Demonstration version: free; Spectroscopy programs: $100 (set); Stereochemistry set: $50.

Adrian Blackman is a Senior Lecturer in the Chemistry Department at the University of Tasmania