Chevalier\'s Achromatic Microscope (circa 1800s)

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Aspirin Video No. 10
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Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as aspirin, is well known for its properties as a nonnarcotic analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug. A derivative of salicylic acid, the drug crystallizes in the form of a white, needle-like powder with only a faint odor. It was first synthesized in 1897 by chemist, Felix Hoffmann, an employee at the BayerŽ Company in Germany to relieve his father's rheumatism. The compound later became the active ingredient in aspirin named - "a" from acetyl, "spir" from the Meadowsweet plant Spiraea ulmaria (now called Filipendula ulmari) that yields salicin, and "in," a common suffix for medications.

Salicylates are naturally occurring compounds that have long been used by humans for their medicinal properties. To relieve pain and fever, the Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed teas made from the salicin rich bark and leaves of the willow tree, Salix alba. Historically, many other cultures throughout the world have utilized plant extracts high in salicin compounds.

Salicin, the parent of the salicylate drug family, was successfully isolated in 1829 from willow bark. Sodium salicylate, a predecessor to aspirin, was developed along with salicylic acid in 1875 as a pain reliever. Although sodium salicylate was widely used during the 1800s, it was very irritating to the stomach lining and caused problems for people taking it on a regular basis to treat painful conditions such as arthritis. This was the dilemma Felix Hoffmann's father encountered, which motivated the chemist to develop a form with less serious side effects.


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