The Chemical Educator, Vol. 6, No. 2, S1430-4171(01)02476-5, 10.1007/s00897010476a, © 2001 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.

Organic Laboratory Techniques, 3rd ed.; by Ralph J. Fessenden, (the late) Joan S. Fessenden, and Patty Feist. Softcover. 229 pp, US $38.95. Brooks/Cole: 2001. ISBN 0-534-37981-8.


Reviewed by, Peter Marrs, University of Victoria.,


It is unusual to find a laboratory textbook that does not contain specific experimental procedures, but Organic Laboratory Techniques is just such a book. It is written as a companion text for students in a beginning organic laboratory, not as a laboratory manual, and therein lies its strength.


The text consists of an introduction to the organic laboratory, seventeen technique sections, and three appendices. The introduction discusses laboratory safety, notebooks, and equipment. The subtopics on safety are particularly well written, and examine personal safety, procedures for dealing with and avoiding accidents, and the handling of chemicals. A summary of the safety rules has been simplified to: “In the case of a spill, WASH!” and “In the case of a fire, GET OUT!”; good advice for the beginning student!


The remaining sections thoroughly examine the basic techniques required in an organic laboratory. The sections can be categorized into procedures for carrying out reactions (reaction setup, extraction of mixtures, and solution drying), compound purification (crystallization, sublimation, distillation, and column chromatography), and analyses (melting point, refractive index, thin-layer chromatography, gas chromatography, IR spectroscopy, and NMR spectroscopy). There is also a section on the use of the chemical literature. The only basic technique not covered is polarimetry. The order of the sections is not as noted above, but follows a sequence seen in many university laboratories, where the techniques are practiced as exercises before reactions are attempted.


Each section is laid out in the same style. The technique and its purpose are introduced, and the expected results are described. The physical chemistry behind the technique is discussed. General procedures are given for doing the technique in both macroscale and microscale procedures. Any additional related or supplementary techniques are also discussed. Finally, each section ends with several problems related to the technique.


These sections are very well written. The writing style is very general, and thus easy to read and understand. The discussion of each technique builds clearly from an introduction to a conclusion. The descriptions of relevant physical chemistry are written for students who have not had (or may never have) a course in physical chemistry, and can be understood by the nonspecialist. The combination of both microscale and macroscale procedures allows the student (and the instructor!) to compare and contrast the differences in the techniques. Safety notes are also included with the procedures. The supplementary techniques might not be seen by the students in a beginning course, but may become useful later in their careers.


The three appendices complete the text with background information on commonly used calculations, elemental analyses, and the health hazards of organic chemicals.


A reference is given to the publisher’s website (, which allows access to WebWorks. WebWorks is an online resource center dedicated to the text. The instructions given in the textbook for finding the website were inaccurate; the exact address of the website is: OCOL.HTM. WebWorks consists of five main areas: instructor resources (requires a password), chapter by chapter resources to links on the web, two sections relating to spectroscopy, and a compound gallery.


The spectroscopy sections include review material, and a series of problems. The problems either involve one technique at a time (IR, 1H and 13C NMR, and MS) or are integrated, and all are at a suitable level for the beginning student. The gallery is a virtual museum of more than 400 compounds, including simple molecules, natural products, and a variety of synthetic molecules. For each molecule, there are basic physical data, an interactive 3D picture of the molecule in MDL mol file format, and links to other references on the web. The interactive MDL files are treats for beginning and new chemists alike!


Though I may have a few (very few!) personal quibbles about how the material is presented, the book is well done from start to finish. In the preface, the authors state “It is also our hope that Organic Laboratory Techniques, Third Edition, finds its way into the professional library of every science student.” I must agree with the authors, as this text is a valuable resource for the practicing chemist.