Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Chemistry Lesson

Many times, I've done a "Smell-a-Vision" lesson with my students based on GC-MS data on terpenes from citrus fruits, herbs, and flowers collected from around campus.  This year, I plan to use Mr. Sketch markers as a source of the aromas.  Students will be given either percent composition or combustion analysis data, together with the molecular weight, and asked to determine empirical and molecular formulas.

The implementation could have been smoother, it was really difficult to hand out 36 markers of different aroma and the corresponding papers.  If I had to do this activity again, I would have spent more time preparing the markers and papers (already matched up) and had a corresponding seating chart (plan to distribute).  With a class of ~80 students, there were pairs and groups of 3.  I ended up taking about 15 minutes to distribute the activity which only left 5 minutes for students to work on the problems.  I made it a take-home extra-credit assignment, so there's no telling how students will get the problem solved.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sour Stomach?

The 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared between James Black, Gertrude Elion, and George Hitchings "for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.”  In 1964, histamine was known to stimulate the secretion of stomach acid, but traditional antihistamines had no effect on acid production. Tagamet was one of the first drugs discovered using a rational drug design approach. 

Hundreds of modified compounds were synthesized in an effort to find a specific antihistamine to decrease production of stomach acid. Tagamet was approved by the FDA for prescriptions in 1976. By 1979, Tagamet was being sold in more than 100 countries and became the top-selling prescription product in the U.S. 

Tagamet became the first drug ever to reach more than $1 billion a year in sales, thus making it the first blockbuster drug.  Before the introduction of the drug, treatment of peptic ulcers relied on extensive bed rest, imposition of a bland diet, treatment with antacids, and often involved surgery if the ulcer recurred.  Tagamet's mode of action is to block the Histamine H2 receptor.

There are 3 types of heartburn medication: 
  • antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, and Tums
  • Histamine H2 receptor antagonists such as Pepcid and Tagamet
  • proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Prilosec and Prevacid
In seeking a course of treatment for heartburn, it is best to progress from antacids to Histamine H2 receptor antagonists to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), each more aggressive than the next.  There is a risk of osteoporosis and vitamin B12 deficiency if PPIs are taken over a long period of time, although PPIs are usually more effective than the older Histamine H2 blockers.

Prilosec was the first proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) on the market, in 1988. It was sold as a racemic mixture of R and S isomers. Prevacid was the second of the PPI drugs to reach the market, being launched in Europe in 1991 and the US in 1995. In 2001 Nexium was launched in USA, containing the S-isomer only of the same molecule as Prilosec, providing higher bioavailability and improved efficacy.

Aside from medication, there are dietary changes that can address acid reflux. Limit fried foods and fatty foods, such as butter, mayonnaise, cream sauces, gravies. Try lower fat or skim milk, as this may also help reduce heartburn. Limit foods that cause gas, like rich spicy foods. Sit upright for at least one hour after a meal. 

The Top Pharmaceuticals That Changed The World, Chemical & Engineering News Vol. 83, Issue 25 (6/20/05) http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/83/8325/8325list.html 

Lars Olbe, Enar Carlsson & Per Lindberg. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2, 132-139 (February 2003) http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v2/n2/fig_tab/nrd1010_F2.html

Are Heartburn Medications Safe for Long-Term Use? - Everyday Health (2/19/16)

5 Steps to an Effective Acid Reflux Diet - RefluxMD (6/15/16)

Nausea and Vomiting Heartburn: - WIC Works (2005)

Monday, January 16, 2017


Plants and microorganisms produce over 150,000 natural molecules, some of which are bioactive in humans.  I am writing this post in response to the wave of celebrity deaths, some of which may be attributed to drug overdoses.

Figure 1: Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) courtesy of the DEA Museum website
The opium poppy is the source of morphine and codeine. Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from codeine. According to the US DEA, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States and is associated with more drug abuse and diversion than any other licit or illicit opioid. Dextromethorphan (pronounced "dex-tro-meth-orphan") is a molecule that resulted from a search for a non-addictive analogue of codeine that still retained cough relief. Unfortunately, it still carries a risk for abuse.

Figure 2: Most widely used (and abused) opioids
This year, the musician Prince is said to have died from a fentanyl overdose. A structurally similar molecule, demerol, is primarily used in labor and delivery. Demerol was the first wholly synthetic opioid developed, in 1939. Fentanyl was discovered in 1960 by screening demerol analogues. To my eyes, it isn't easy to see the structural similarity between the plant-based opioids (natural and semi-synthetic) and the synthetic opioids.

Figure 3: Red region of the molecules mimics the endogenous ligand for opioid receptor, a GPCR
There are multiple types of opioid receptors: mu (MOR), delta (DOR), and kappa (KOR) among them.  The drugs mentioned here mimic the endogenous morphine, also known as endorphin.  There are multiple types of endorphin peptides, but one endorphin peptide met-enkephalin (structure not shown) shares a common substructure with the plant-based opioids (shown in red in Figure 3).

Figure 4: Selectivity of opioids for three classes of opioid receptors
Different opioids have varying degrees of selectivity for the different classes of opioid receptors. This selectivity may explain why distinct substructures can have a similar effect.

Figure 5: A set of structurally related anti-diarrheal compounds in current use

Orienting the fentanyl molecule differently reveals its structural similarity to other anti-diarrheals, Immodium and the combination drug called Limodil. A side effect of opioids is constipation. Everything I know about opioid abuse, I learned from the movie Trainspotting.


John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Chahl, Loris A. "Opioids - mechanisms of action" Australian Prescriber, 1996.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Central Coast Trip

We had a wonderful 5-day (4-night) vacation in Grover Beach this New Year's.  My panniers weighed about 26 pounds.  The raingear was not used, but rain was in the forecast so it was good we had it just in case.  The most valuable items were the windbreaker, yoga pants, and a zip-up hoodie.

It was easy to catch the Amtrak from Glendale.  The Holiday Inn Express provided continental breakfast, of which we used to make lunches of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.  This helped keep the cost of our trip low.  Our walks and bicycle rides were completely free.  We considered seeing a movie, but there wasn't anything we could agree upon.

I am providing our modest itinerary and detailed packing list for our own documentation, but also I would hope it would help you consider what you would bring if you had to carry everything.  There are things I missed, but I used everything I brought.  It felt really good to simplify our lives if only for a week.

It was really fun to be able to take the bus.  The 5-cities transit was awesome!  We bought a $5 all-day pass for the day we went to San Luis Obispo, since we took two different bus lines.  Even though we were early for the bus (which runs only once per hour) we took the opportunity to do some "Bus Stop Calisthenics." Analogous to my favorite passtime, "Train Yoga."  When you consider the urban landscape one big playground for adults, and stop caring what people think, life can be more fun!


Day 1: Fri. Dec. 30

Boarded train at 3:17pm
Arrived at 7:54pm
Biked to hotel
Dinner at Carl's Jr

Day 2: Sat. Dec. 31

Bike ride to Grover Beach beachfront
Viewing of Monarch Grove
Bike tour of Pismo Beach downtown
Walk to 5 Cities Center, Branch Street
Bus ride back to K Mart
Dinner at AJ Spurs

Day 3: Sun. Jan. 1

Bike ride to Avila Beach
Walk to Grand Avenue
Dinner at Round Table Pizza

Day 4: Mon. Jan. 2

Bus ride to San Luis Obispo
Tour of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Shopping at Phoenix Books

Day 5: Tue. Jan. 3

Lunch at Station Grill
Boarded train at 1:55pm
Arrived at 6:50pm
Biked home

Packing List

Raingear + Stocking cap
Light jacket + Windbreaker
Sun hat + Cycling cap
Scarf + Headscarf
Bicycling gloves
Undershirts (1 camisole, 3 t-shirts)
Long sleeve cycling jersey
Boxers or panties (5+ pair)
Socks (5+ pair)
Bras (1 sports and 2 regular)
Hoodie (zip up)
Sunglasses + case + cleaning cloth
Bicycle helmet
Safety vest
Hiking pants (Convertible)
Yoga pants
Dress pants
Cycling shorts
Face wash, lotion, eye cream, serum
Contact lens case/solution
Chapstick, face SPF 50, body SPF 30
Comb, headband, tampons, medication
Phone + Charger
GoPro + Charger
Lights + Charger
Computer + Charger
Music player + Charger
Resort Dress
Cycling & Walking shoes 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Zion NP Packing List


Coat (heavy)

Jacket (windbreaker)

Hat (stocking)


Gloves (ski/waterproof)



Long Underwear

Undershirt (camisole, t-shirt)

Performance shirt (long sleeve)

Boxers (briefs or panties)



Fleece (zip up)

Backpack + water bladder


Sun hat


Thermal socks

Performance socks (2 pair)

Hiking pants

Hiking boots

Flip-flop (sandals, thongs)



Snacks (Clif bars)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bike Racks

We got our Smart Car in August 2011.  Since then, we've taken it on many trips.  We've had to do little things to maintain the car in the last year, such as brakes ($427.69) and new tires ($647.35). These we have had done at Boulevard Auto Repair in Van Nuys.  We get regular service (e.g. oil changes) here at Glendale Lube Center.

Photo credit: Anne Hamersky (January 2012)
In academic years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, I was driving 80 miles per weekday!  I'm so glad I don't have to do that anymore.  We got rid of our 2nd car in February of 2015 and thank goodness for that.  I overheard two people discussing the Public Transit Subsidy Program at CSUN, specifically in regards to Metrolink.
CSUN employees who opt to use the bus, rail, or train to campus may be eligible for a discount of up to 60% off the cost of the monthly transit pass. The total monthly discount will not exceed $100.
One person was explaining to the other that the discount really starts to pay off when you become a single-car family.  Now we drive when we have to (or want to) but if we don't want to drive, we take the Metrolink train with our bicycles.

April 2015 we got the rack, June 2015 we got the bike (Fuji)
Free2Go Bike Rack (#FREE2GO) $109.00 + $15.00 via Flat Rate USA = $124.00

Becoming a single-car household wasn't without its challenges.  We had a bike rack for our old 4-door Honda Civic, but we needed a way to transport at least one bicycle in the case of an emergency. The first rack we purchased is the Free2Go.  As long as your bike weighs less than 45 pounds, this rack will work.  In fact, it's even my preferred rack for transporting our beach cruiser bike, due to the shape of its frame.  At around 2 pounds, the Free2Go bike rack can even be slipped into your messenger bag or backpack if you are driving a rented SmartCar.  The car-sharing company car2go operates in 9 US cities, including San Diego, but not yet in Los Angeles.

October 2015 we got the bike (Fix-D), October 2016 we got the rack
Thule Helium Aero 3 Bike $399.95 + $189.95 Hitch (U-Haul) + $60 Installation + Tax? = $697.10
Fix-D 700C Road Bike - Silver/Red (28") = $98.09

This year, we upgraded our carrying capacity with a 3-bike rack, which is kind of ironic since we have a 2-passenger car.  It was pretty expensive to get the hitch installed, but we finally got the car paid off so it seemed like the right time to start making modifications (spending the money we would have put into a car payment).  We're considering where to take this rack.  So far, we've used it to go out to Riverside and over to the LA River Bike Path with out-of-town guests.  At 20 pounds, the Thule rack can be installed by one female (me) solo.  It has a load-capacity of 110 pounds.

I'm not wild about the Los Angeles car culture, but there are still some remote areas that are not well-served by public transportation (e.g. Point Mugu) where we would like to camp and bring our bicycles.  I'm still not totally sure what we're doing over the winter break, but it will most likely involve our new bike rack.  Even though we have a really tiny house, we both fantasize about the next bicycles we want to buy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ye Olde Holiday Tyme

How to decorate your bike for the holidays!

$19.99 Fry's Electronics Cosmic Brightz http://www.frys.com/product/8141075
  • 10 feet of LEDs 
  • 3 AA batteries=20+ hours
  • 8 colors
  • Waterproof 

$14.99 per wheel Fry's Electronics Wheel Brightz http://www.frys.com/product/8140975
  • 20 LEDs in clear, flexible tubing
  • 3 AA batteries=48+ hours
  • Durable battery pack attaches onto spokes
  • 8 colors
  • Waterproof

$12.99 for a 2-pack at Target http://www.target.com/p/led-decorative-ultra-slim-wire-multicolor-2pk/-/A-13506341 (or $15.51 at Home Depot) (or $13.38 for Martha Stewart's Brand)
  • 9 Ft long with 36 lights
  • 3 AA Battery Operated
  • Phasing and flashing options
  • 4 colors

$6.99 per light Fry's Electronics Spokelit Green http://www.frys.com/product/6828866
  • 2 Button Cell batteries=20+ hours
  • attaches onto spokes

Then join us on Sunday, December 18th at 5:30pm at Nibley Park in Glendale, CA.  We'll be riding a little over 6 miles at a SLOW pace through neighborhoods.  We'll be enjoying FREE HOT COCOA at Gaucho's Village as well. Bring water, a helmet, and a bike in good working condition. ALL AGES WELCOME!  Kids younger than 8 should be able to ride several miles or be on a safe child carrying device to participate on the ride.

The route is posted here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17669774 There will be a competition for "safest and brightest bike" and "safety facts for safe night riding."  Spread the word!