This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop entitled Selected Cases at Beloit College in June 1999. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: Murder by Atkins?

On August 11, 2001, 19-year old Jisela Martinez was found dead on the floor of a stall of the women's restroom in the Velvet Room nightclub in downtown Atlanta. The victim had sustained blunt trauma to the front of the head and a smear of blood was found on the basin of toilet adjacent to the victim's body. After questioning, friends of the victim remarked that the deceased went to the bathroom after becoming drowsy and nauseous. The victim had, by all accounts, spent most of the night talking to a young Caucasian man in is early-to-mid 20's at the bar of the nightclub. [Interviews of the victim's companion, cousin and a Velvet Room bartender.]

Police found the business card of Kevin Maher, with a home phone number written on the back, among the Martinez' personal effects. Police interviewed Maher on two occasions. [Transcripts of Maher's interviews 1,2].

A preliminary toxicology report of the victim showed significant levels of phenobarbital in the system of the deceased. A background check of Maher revealed that he had previously been charged with aggravated assault (and subsequently acquitted) in the drugging of Linda Mauro, an estranged girlfriend. [Interview of Linda Mauro].

As an assistant district attorney working in close conjunction with the Homicide division of the Atlanta Police Department and the APD Forensics Lab. Assess the evidence and decide whether the death of Jisela Martinez was a homicide. If so, be prepared to qualify if the homicide was accidental or intentional.

Additional information:

Fulton County Medical Examiner's Report - #34098-2 (Martinez, J.)

Toxicology Report #34098-2 - Jisela Martinez

Forensic Chemical Anaysis of Sample A394 - Atrovent (Case 34098)

Case Author:
Lance Shipman Emory University:Center for Science Education

Case Analysis

What was the ultimate cause of death for the patient?

Were there external factors that lead to the victim's death? If so, were they criminal and/or malicious?

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals


Students should be able to describe the connection between pH and ionization constant for a specific drug. Students should similarly be able to predict the efficacy of a drug based on its degree of ionization (or unionization).

Students should have an appreciation for the differences in solubility that may arise from the different ionization states of a compound.

Students should specifically be able to relate ionization/equilibrium constants and pKa values.



Investigations and Activities

Students should investigate the effect of low-protein diets on systemic blood pH.

Students should investigate the effect of ionization on drug solubility.

Students should investigate the effect of pH on drug absorption.

Students should investigate the symptoms of toxicity for a specific drug.

Students should be able to draw an analogy to the concepts in this case with those that presented in titration and recrystallization experiments.



Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items

1. doa1.jpg


Student Products

Students should accumulate significant amounts of data with regards to two aspects of the case:

Metabolic acidosis and/or ketosis

Acid dependence on phenobarbital toxicity

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Students are expected to sort the data and draw a relationship between the victim's state of acidosis and the toxicity of phenobarbital as a function of pH.

Students should be able to incorporate the Henderson-Hasselbach equation:
pH = pKa - log [protonated drug]/[ionized drug]


Students will have to submit a written recommendation to the District Attorney drawing conclusions from the combined testimony of witnesses, forensics reports, and the Medical Examiner's report.



Course name:
General Chemistry II
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Time during term:
4 hours per week
Lab recitation
Students in course:
Collaborative elements:
Group work, use of information technology
Additional notes:



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