Phenol

Phenol is a simple aromatic molecule consisting of a benzene ring, to which is attached an oxygen-hydrogen or OH group. The name phenol does not apply to only Lister’s antiseptic molecule, it is applied to a very large group of related compounds that all have an OH group attached directly to a benzene ring. This can be confusing that there are many phenols, but only one phenol. Phenol was a seemingly great way to eliminate germs on all surfaces, especially during surgical procedures. Although anesthetics had been introduced at the end of 1864, most patients agreed to surgery only as a last resort because surgical wounds always became infected and would normally cause other infections and the patient would most likely die. Joseph Lister, born in 1827, had a theory that this “hospital disease” was caused by microscopic organisms. He used carbolic acid, a product made from coal tar that had not been successful on surgery patients before. When Lister used it on a young boy with a compound fracture it worked, so he kept on using it. By August 1867 he was using carbolic acid as an antiseptic agent, but also as a postoperative dressing. Overall, phenol first permitted antiseptic surgery, allowing operations to be performed without risk of life-threatening infection. Without phenol, and later antiseptics, the amazing surgical feats of today would never have been possible. Also, phenols have made the first truly synthetic material that jumpstarted the modern and industrial age. The impact of phenol in this world is more than just important. If phenol was not invented, then there would not be a similar basis for a variety of things to be formed. I think that phenol has not really grown in popularity, but society still uses it to its best potential. I feel that the author’s argument in this chapter makes complete sense because without phenol, we would not know the basis for many artificial compounds we know now. The author believes with such a wide variety of structures, it is likely that phenols will continue to shape history.

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One thought on “Phenol

  1. whoa! awesome! i love how much of the science you put into it along with history!

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