This in-class activity requires that the students read an article in The Atlantic about an interesting (and modern) case of the plague. The article provides a great platform to showcase the Inorganic side of broad societal themes like evolutionary biology, environmental and hereditary influences on disease, and the collaboration between biology, medicine, and history. The article itself contains little chemistry, but can be used to guide students into learning about iron in bioinorganic chemistry.
Accompanying article found here:
A student should learn introductory bioinorganic nomenclature associated with iron enzymes and proteins in order to complete this assignment.
A student should be able to apply his/her knowledge of coordination chemistry to answer questions about siderophores (which might be a foreign topic).
Students' knowledge of coordination chemistry will be probed specifically in areas of thermodynamic stability constants for metal-ligand complexes, radical reactions associated with oxygen-derived radicals, redox chemistry, principles of hard-soft acids and bases.
This activity was well received by my students (many pre-meds who really like the medical connections). There were several in the class who had taken an evolutionary biology course, and that opened up some really interesting class dialogue and questions about other metals' roles in disease. Much of the "chemistry" content I used to cover in lecture as part of a bioinorganic section, but this activity replaced much of that material and put the burdent on them to read that part of the chapter in order to answer the questions.
Biology is listed as a pre- or co-requisite, but it is not absolutely required. Students with a biology background will come away with a different depth of knowledge, while students without a biology background may appreciate the general audience tone of the Atlantic article.