Hademenos, G. (2005). Aspirin History and Applications. The Science Teacher, 72(8), pg 30-34.

This article begins first by telling the history of aspirin, from one of its earliest documented uses when Hippocrates, around 400 BC, would recommend that women going through the pains of labor chew on willow tree bark. It was later discovered that the salicin, which is a compound in the salicylate family, was compound in the bark that was responsible for the therapeutic effects that were observed. Johann Buchner first isolated this compound in 1828. From there, salicylic acid began being used, with adverse side effects, so changes were made to the molecule in an attempt to make it more suitable for human use. However, any changes began first with the extraction of salicin from plants. Scientists found that salicylic acid could be synthesized, and in 1860, Kolbe and Lautemann discovered what is now called the Kolbe synthesis as a means to produce large amounts of the acid. This later was used to produce large amounts of ASA, or acetylsalicylic acid, which is now called aspirin. Bayer derived this word from acetyl chloride (a), Spiraea ulmira – the plant from which salicylic acid was extracted (spir), and the common ending to medicines during the time period that it was named (in). ASA was later proven to maintain the therapeutic properties of salicylic acid without the objectionable side effects, and began being sold in the U.S. without a prescription in 1915. In 1939, the FDA approved aspirin.

Aspirin can be used in a wide variety of ways to illustrate many different concepts. The article suggests uses in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, history and government, business and marketing, and mathematics. For instance, in chemistry, aspirin can be used to teach synthesis and stoichiometry, titration and quantitative analysis, and qualitative analysis; in math, it can be used to teach graphical analysis; and in biology, it can be used to teach about the sources of drugs and the treatment of illness and disease. The article discusses how the examples given for the different areas can be modified to allow for different grade levels as well as different levels of higher-order thinking, as described by Bloom’s Taxonomy. Basically, the possibilities are endless, and a teacher need only use their resources and creativity to develop an activity tailored to the learning goals they have for their students.

I really like this article, as it begins with a compound that every student is familiar with and expands on it to illustrate all that aspirin actually entails. It’s a great way to develop a cross-curricular activity that can take students in so many different directions. I think it is especially useful in a chemistry classroom, since we could talk about the history and how scientists are constantly trying to improve upon drugs to reduce side effects. An especially valuable principle for students to learn is the fact that most important discoveries take years of development and hard work. In this way, the scientific method can be reinforced. The students could learn about drugs, drug production, and the value of the FDA. Students can synthesize their own ASA and reinforce their stoichiometric skills. The students can perform titrations on aspirin that they get right from a bottle from a drug store to see how much ASA is in aspirin.

I think it’s so important to get students to understand why they do labs, and relating them to something they are familiar with is a great start.

P.S. I can’t believe they mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy. We can’t tell Charlie about this, or we’ll never hear the end of it.