Royal Society Publishing

Organofluorine chemistry

Graham Sandford


The fascination of organofluorine chemistry stems from the fact that, apart from a few exceptions, molecules containing carbon–fluorine bonds do not occur in nature and so the field is entirely ‘man–made’. Many fluoro–organic molecules are encountered by the general public on a daily basis, but this is probably not widely recognized even by the scientific community. For example, the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants, now being replaced by the ozone–friendly hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), are present in everybody'kitchens. Anaesthesia has been revolutionized by fluorinated anaesthetics, and many pharmaceuticals, including the well–known antidepressant Prozac®, owe their enhanced biological activity to the presence of fluorine atoms in their structures. Fluoropolymers have found widespread use in applications ranging from non–stick coatings on cookware (Teflon®, Du Pont), waterproof clothing (Goretex®, W. L. Gore), and as high–performance lubricants. In fact, supersonic flight and space travel would probably not have been possible without the use of perfluorinated materials that can withstand such harsh operating environments. Fluorinated materials prepared many years ago continue to find new applications: for instance, perfluorocarbon fluids, originally prepared in the 1930s, are being developed as imaging agents for the diagnosis of heart disease and as oxygen–carrying ‘blood substitutes’. Given the success of organofluorine chemistry in such a wide variety of applications, the future of the subject is very bright. This essay outlines some of the fascination of studying the chemistry of fluoro–organic molecules, gives a brief overview of how organofluorine chemistry has helped shape some of the remarkable developments of the 20th century, and provides a personal view of the role of fluorine chemistry in the initial stages of the new millennium.

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