The Organic Unknown is an important project in second semester Chemistry (Chem II) at Butte College. It is very likely that Chico State has a similar project for their chemistry students.

During the first half of the semester, students individually receive an organic unknown (composed of Carbon, Hydrogen, and sometimes Halogen atoms) whose identity must be determined through various analytical, physical, and "wet" methods. For example, by using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Infrared Spectrography, and Refractive Index, its formula, isomer, and finally its name, may be found. Once the identity of the compound is determined, a report of some number of pages must be written in a specific format (similar to the American Institute of Physics format) that is popular at many universities.

During the second half of the semester, students then must form groups and determine what a new and possibly more complicated unknown is. Less time is given since it is expected that students have learned and have become more or less proficient with tests and analysis.

While students do learn a fair amount about organic chemistry, these projects by no means teach everything there is to know. That's reserved for, at Butte College, Organic Chemistry (Chem 51). Instead, students learn how to do their own research in the lab and write proper reports — an important key to success in upper division coursework.