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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 23 (2018) pp 112-118

Mystery of the Missing Medicine: Forensic Drug Identification of Pseudoephedrine in a Non-Science Majors Course

Bettie Obi Johnson*, Austin Blackwell, Mitesh Patel, and Alexander Robins

University of South Carolina Lancaster, 276 Hubbard Drive, Lancaster, SC 29720,
Received May 18, 2018. Accepted June 11, 2018.

Published: 26 June 2018

Abstract. A drug analysis experiment was developed for use in a first-year non-majors Forensic Science course. The experiment guides students through a scenario involving a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant whose pseudoephedrine inventory was stolen. Students review company records and determine likely suspects in the theft. They obtain residue samples from the vehicles of the suspects and perform a Chen-Kao screening test for pseudoephedrine in the samples. The sample with a positive screening test is subjected to two confirmatory tests: infrared spectroscopy (IR) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Based on the combined results, students identify the most likely suspect to have stolen the medicine. They justify their conclusions with experimental data and they answer thought provoking post-lab questions. The experiment was completed in one 3-hour lab period with class sizes ranging from 5 to 23 students on a small regional campus of a state university. Survey data collected from 107 students over 8 semesters indicated that the experiment was effective in student engagement and learning.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry; problem solving/decision making; forensic chemistry; gas chromatography; mass spectrometry; IR spectroscopy; drugs/pharmaceuticals; nonmajor courses; microscale lab

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF format (783 KB) HTML format

Supporting Materials:

A laboratory handout for students which includes background information, pre-lab questions, procedure, data tables, and post-lab questions is provided. Additionally, a laboratory preparation sheet for instructors is provided. Each is available in the laboratory documentation available in this issue of Chemical Educator Online. (424 KB)

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