What’s in That Medicine: An Inquiry-Based Activity to Introduce Medicinally Active Natural Products and Metals

Stephanie Mitchell, Jill S. McCourt, Diane J. Nesset-Tollefson, Gabrielle L. Kimball, Jasmine N. Mikesell, Emily J Tollefson, Erin E. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Common over-the-counter medicines can be an exciting entry point for introducing students to the interesting chemistries that they encounter in their daily lives. In this inquiry-based activity, students are tasked with using a list of given supplies and information about four medications (Aspirin, Tums, Pepto-Bismol, and Tylenol) to design three experiments that will enable them to identify which mystery substance is which medication. This activity introduces students to several chemical concepts, including acid-base reactions, redox reactions, and chelation. Overall, comparing results of pre- and post-activity assessments, students learned about and became more confident in their knowledge of how natural products and metals can be used in medicine and were able to correctly identify their unknown medications. Additionally, a procedure-based activity for extracting bismuth from Pepto-Bismol is included.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-414
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CHE-2001611, the NSF Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is part of the Centers for Chemical Innovation Program. The authors would like to thank the University of Minnesota─Twin Cities Discover STEM program for the opportunity to be involved in their summer programming in 2018 and 2019. SLM gratefully acknowledges the support of the University of Minnesota’s Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship during the development of this work. SLM and EJT would like to thank Natalie Hudson-Smith and Miriam Krause for their support and suggestions. BioRender was used to generate the TOC image.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


  • acids/base
  • consumer chemistry
  • drugs/pharmaceuticals
  • high school/introductory chemistry
  • inquiry-based/discovery learning
  • metals
  • natural products
  • public understanding/outreach


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