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Lab Reports: Gathering Basic Data on a Chemical

This page discusses advice and sources useful for the "Molecule Report" assignment in organic chemistry lab courses. But you can also use these sources for basic lab report data requirements.

Choosing a Substance for your Molecule Report


Cite your Sources

Cite all your sources. See the Style Guides page for information on citation formats and links to examples.

Print vs. Web is not a meaningful distinction. What you really need to pay attention to is Authoritative vs. Non-authoritative sources. It's the quality and reliability that matter most. Your mode of access to that information - paper or digital - matters less. Get in the habit of citing only authoritative sources. You should avoid using miscellaneous web pages of unclear authorship or date, and stick with published content such as handbooks, books, journals, databases, and patents, many of which are now available digitally.

Best Starting Points

Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology is an excellent background source for important industrial chemicals. Articles on major chemicals and chemical classes cover history, uses, economics, production, chemical and physical data, with extensive bibliographies. The print edition is shelved in the Reference collection at TP 9 K54 2004; start with the Index volume.

The Merck Index is available on the library's handbook table. The Merck provides brief profiles of common compounds and pharmaceuticals, including uses, and sometimes cites the first reported synthesis. Use the synonym index to locate the correct entry.

CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics is the best-known single-volume tool for reliable property data. Use it online or in print in the library. The large table on ~26,000 organic compounds is arranged by chemical name and has its own synonym index. The print volume index does not list individual compounds.

Combined Chemical Dictionary is a database of structures, names and basic properties of over 600,000 compounds, with a selected bibliography for each main entry.

Material Safety Data Sheets describe hazards and safety procedures. MSDS for most commercially available products can be found on the web, and typically no longer exist in print. NOTE: Property data in MSDS are not particularly reliable. You can also use the Sigma-Aldrich Library of Chemical Safety Data, a 2-volume set located on the library's handbook table.

Reaxys is a retrospective database of millions of structures and reactions and associated property data and literature references. Under the Substances tab, go to Substance Data > Identification Data form and enter search terms. It's a good place to verify the first synthesis of a compound, but it can be confusing for beginners.

Wikipedia articles can be a good starting point, but don't rely exclusively on it. Wikipedia's ChemBox section provides some property data, but if a value is not referenced or marked with a wikipedia checkmark you should confirm it in another source before trusting it. The article's bibliography can point you to other sources. It's usually not acceptable to cite Wikipedia in a formal scientific report.

The Library Catalog can be searched for books about a particular chemical or class of chemicals. However, only the best-known compounds might have an entire book written about them. And some of those might be quite old and possibly in remote storage.