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Exploring the Chemical Literature

Tutorial for students in advanced Analytical Chemistry courses for majors, but useful to anyone interested in using the literature of chemistry.

Chemical Names

What's in a name?

The conventions for naming chemical compounds are very complex and difficult for a novice to understand. A given molecule might have dozens of different names. Generic or trivial names, trade names, and any number of systematic names such as IUPAC-style names, may be used throughout the literature, causing confusion. The same confusion can complicate a literature search. As a general rule, it's best to avoid using a chemical name as a search term, unless the name is almost universally recognized and widely used (and even if it is you'll still miss some articles). Bisphenol-A is an organic molecule often referred to in both the scientific and popular media. Its structure looks like this:

bisphenol-A structure

Its CA Index Name (the official name assigned to the structure according to Chemical Abstracts nomenclature rules) is

Phenol, 4,4'-(1-methylethylidene)bis-

which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue! It's easy to see why people would rarely use this name in conversation, media, or even in a technical paper. So Bisphenol-A or BPA are more often used as shorthand for this compound.

Fortunately, Chemical Abstracts Service provides a good alternative to names with the CAS Registry Number, which stands in as an unambiguous search term in some scientific databases.  For places to find Registry Numbers, visit our Where to Find page in the Chemistry Guide.

The Registry Number for BPA is 80-05-7. Use this number instead of its name when you search in a chemistry-focused database such as SciFinder, and you'll get much better results.  However, RNs are not included in more general databases such as Web of Science or Google Scholar. 

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