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Many oils, fats, waxes, solvents and paraffin are either hydrocarbons or contain large hydrocarbon sub-units.
|Note: The terms "saturated" and "unsaturated" also refer to the concentration of solutions. These have a much different meaning and context.|
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An unsaturated hydrocarbon (or other organic molecule) contains double or triple bonds between certain atoms. These bonds may be broken and new atoms attached without disrupting the existing skeleton of the hydrocarbon.
If a molecule contains a saturated hydrocarbon sub-unit, this sub-unit is called an alkyl group. If the sub-unit is an aromatic group this sub-unit is called an aryl group.
For carbon, the maximum (and ideal) number of bonds is four. Let's look at an example. trans-3-hexene is unsaturated because the atoms shown in red have two bonds connecting them and are bound to only three different atoms. If we chemically add hydrogen atoms to the red carbons, this reduces the carbon-carbon double bond to a single bond and gives the red carbons four single bonds to other atoms. The resulting molecule, n-hexane, is saturated because we can not add any more atoms to it without removing bonds to existing atoms.
You may have heard the terms monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated in reference to fats and oils. Saturated fats (no double bonds) contain long hydrocarbon sub-units (alkyl groups). Examples are coconut oil and lard, which have a tendency to clog your arteries because of their chemical and physical properties. Unsaturated fats, those with one (mono) or many (poly) double bonds, are less likely to form artery-clogging plaques.
These molecules have the same chemical formula (C5H12), but a different arrangement in each case, so we call them isomers. These isomers of pentane have different chemical reactivity and properties because of their different molecular arrangements. For example n-hexane is a neurotoxin while neohexane is not.
Posters for the safe handling of flammable and combustible liquids are available at Safety Emporium.
Always wear proper gloves and eye protection when working with hydrocarbons or organic chemicals. Be sure to wear an appropriate respirator if ventilation is not adequate, and be careful to avoid ignition sources as the vapors can easily reach their flammable limit. When dispensing bulk quantities of flammable liquids, proper bonding and grounding procedures must be followed to avoid the formation of static electricity which could ignite the vapors.
See also: aliphatic, aromatic, organic.
Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.
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