Electronic – Why does the electronics industry use the adjective “organic” when it adds no information


This has been nagging me for a while. I'm an engineer, not a chemist, so I've probably misunderstood something.

The electronics industry uses the adjective "organic" a lot when describing materials. According to Ye Olde Wikipedia, an "organic compound" is:

An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon.

Here are three examples where the adjective seems to convey zero useful information:

  • Organic Solderability Preservate (surface finish)
  • Organic Substrate (for circuit boards or flip-chip assemblies)
  • Organic Acid (O*** flux types according to J-STD-0001, J-STD-0004)

The last one is particularly annoying, since Rosin flux is definitely organic in even the most restrictive sense (it comes from trees!) and contains many acids; Rosin fluxes are, in a literal sense, organic acid fluxes!

In the first two cases (OSP and "organic substrates"), well this could be just about anything including cookie dough.

Have I totally missed something here, or is it just understood that in the electronics industry the adjective "organic" means "super secret stuff we don't want to describe in any way so we will hide it behind this chemistry term that most EEs don't use on a daily basis"?

Here are more examples for the wall of incoherence

  • Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) (thanks @MarkU) although in this specific case I think "organic" has come to mean "individually tiny and therefore high resolution matrix at low cost".

Best Answer

Organic means something very, very specific from an industrial point of view. "Organic fruit and vegetables" has perverted the term as fruit & veg are definitely organic (as in carbon-based) but in this context it describes the lack of use of organic compounds (pesticides etc..) and a more "natural" process. Likewise "organic" can be used as an adverb to describe how something looks.

Organic Chemistry


Organic chemistry is a chemistry subdiscipline involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, and reactions of organic compounds and organic materials, i.e., matter in its various forms that contain carbon atoms.

The examples you have given and the vast majority of cases where the electronics industry uses ORGANIC is correct.

Organic Solderability Preservate (surface finish)

Organic Solderability Preservative, or OSP is a method for coating of printed circuit boards. It uses a water-based organic compound that selectively bonds to copper and protects the copper until soldering.

Organic Substrate (for circuit boards or flip-chip assemblies)

Polyimide and other such organic materials are used as PCB substrates

Organic Acid (O* flux types according to J-STD-0001, J-STD-0004)**

As opposed to inorganic acids like... Nitric acid (HNO3) Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) Hydrofluoric acid (HF)

Used to indicate amino acid structures are used. Organic compounds


Organic Light Emitting Diode's make use of a thin ORGANIC layer ( eg Poly(p-phenylene vinylene) ) to produce photons instead of purely inorganic structure of silicon and doping elements.

Organic isn't used because they are "individually tiny and therefore high resolution matrix at low cost".