Anthropogenic reaction parameters – the missing link between chemical intuition and the available chemical space†
How do skilled synthetic chemists develop good intuitive expertise? Why can we only access such a small amount of the available chemical space—both in terms of the reactions used and the chemical scaffolds we make? We argue here that these seemingly unrelated questions have a common root and are strongly interdependent. We performed a comprehensive analysis of organic reaction parameters dating back to 1771 and discovered that there are several anthropogenic factors that limit reaction parameters and thus the scope of synthetic chemistry. Nevertheless, many of the anthropogenic limitations such as narrow parameter space and the opportunity for rapid and clear feedback on the progress of reactions appear to be crucial for the acquisition of valid and reliable chemical intuition. In parallel, however, all of these same factors represent limitations for the exploration of available chemistry space and we argue that these are thus at least partly responsible for limited access to new chemistries. We advocate, therefore, that the present anthropogenic boundaries can be expanded by a more conscious exploration of “off-road” chemistry that would also extend the intuitive knowledge of trained chemists.