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Brand Name and Generic Aspirin

A Study of the Effects of Steam and Humidity on
Brand-Name and Generic Acetylsalicylic Acid

A Study by Paul Jones


Over-the-counter drugs and supplements claim that as long as certain

conditions are met, it is safe to store them in your bathroom's medicine
cabinet. Oftentimes brand-name and generic versions of the same drug
have the same warnings about storage and storage conditions. But do
they have the same rate of degeneration when stress is applied? Is the
advertised dosage an accurate reflection of how much of something is
truly in a pill? Is there an accurate method to analyze and quantify these
questions when they're applied to the popular analgesic, acetylsalicylic
acid, better known as aspirin. In conclusion, is it safe to store aspirin in a

 Formula - C9H8O4
 Mol. Mass - 180.157 g/mol
 Density - 1.40 g/cm³
 Melt. Point – 135° C O
 Boiling point – 140° C
 Solubility in water - 3 mg/mL (20° C)
Hypothesis I - Method

The development of a method to quantify results of this experiment is as

important as the results themselves. I hypothesize that I will be unable to
execute a method accurate enough to explicitly quantify data, but I will be
able to execute a method precise enough to be able to compare two data
points objectively. This is important because it classifies this study as a
comparative study.
Hypothesis II – Concentration

With a precise enough method, I hypothesize that I could conclude

relative differences in brand name and generic aspirins, both in
untouched and degraded forms. Specifically, there will be no significant
difference in “pure-form” brand name or generic aspirins, but there will be
a small difference in concentration when they are exposed to steam, the
literal “steamy-bathroom.” But the differences in aspirin concentration
due to steam will be equivalent in both brand name and generic drugs.
Considering that ASA degrades at 140° C, and steam is approximately
100° C, I hypothesize it is not a great risk to have aspirin in “steamy
bathroom conditions”
 Erlenmeyer flasks
 Cuvettes
 Graduated cylinder
 Pipets
 Volumetric flasks
 Spectrophotometer
 Brand-name (Bayer) and generic aspirin (Good Neighbor Pharmacy)
 Parafilm
 Sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
 Ferric (III) chloride (FeCl3)
Method Overview
This method uses sodium hydroxide solution to hydrolyze ASA to
produce salicylic acid. The salicylic acid then reacts with iron (III) to give
a complex that absorbs light at 530nm. This absorption allows
measurement using a spectrophotometer. As the study is comparative,
standard (known) solutions of ASA are not required.
(Excerpt from University of Pittsburgh at Bradford,
Method "Spectrophotometric Analysis of Aspirin, Lab 019")

 Place one aspirin tablet in a 125 mL Erlenmeyer flask. Add 10 mL of

a sodium hydroxide solution to the flask, and heat until the contents
begin to boil.
 Quantitatively transfer the solution to a 250 mL volumetric flask, and
dilute with distilled water to the mark.
 Pipet a 2.5 mL sample of this aspirin tablet solution to a 50 mL
volumetric flask. Dilute to the mark with a iron (III) solution. Place
solution in a 125 mL Erlenmeyer flask.
O C CH 3 O- O
(s) + 3OH- (aq) (aq) + CH3C O - (aq) + 2H2O(l)

O- O
+3 +
+ H 2O + H 3O
- + [Fe(H2O)6 ] O
Spectrophotometric Method
 Turn on the spectrophotometer.
 Adjust the wavelength to 530nm.
 Insert the blank (0ppm – cuvet of iron buffer) and set the blank to 0
 Obtain an absorbance reading for the aspirin sample.
Determination of Precision
 Arithmetic mean of results
 Standard deviation of results
 Coefficient of variation = {[mean]/[standard deviation]} x 100%
Ideally, method should have coefficient of variation of within 20% in order
to be accurate enough for comparison.
Results and Precision

Brand-Name Generic Brand-Name Generic

Test Control Control Variable Variable
1 0.42 0.41 0.46 0.23
2 0.41 0.45 0.35 0.26
3 0.42 0.42 0.45 0.28
4 0.38 0.41 0.46 0.27
5 0.43 0.44 0.43 0.26
Mean 0.41 0.43 0.43 0.26
Deviation 0.02 0.02 0.05 0.02
Coefficient of
Variation 4.67% 4.26% 10.78% 7.20%

Note – All test results are in “absorbance” and not in “transmittance.”

Comparisons of Means










Brand-Name Control Generic Control Brand-Name Variable Generic Variable

Note – The Y axis is in “mean of absorbance units.”

Analysis of Results

The results of my experiment clearly show a decrease of about 25% in

the steamed generic ASA whereas the steamed brand-name ASA
retained its structure. This would suggest that brand name ASA is more
durable than generic. But the decreased concentration of the generic
steamed pills shows that steam can definitely affect aspirin strength, and
thus conclusively, one should not let one's aspirin come into contact with
steam, humidity, or “steamy-bathroom conditions.”
Error Analysis Discussion

ASA steam ASA + SA + “A” “A” + (SA + Fe)

(steamed tablet) method
(boiling NaOH)


My method of measuring aspirin breaks down the aspirin tablet into

salicylic acid (SA) and makes it react with a iron (III) to create a complex
that absorbs light at 530nm. But what if the steam the “variable” pills
were exposed to broke down the aspirin into salicylic acid? If steam
breaks aspirin down into salicylic acid, this method couldn't measure it.

1. Aspirin concentration is affected by steam and humidity.

2. Based on advertised aspirin concentration and absorbency initial

aspirin concentration is equivalent in both brand-name and generic

3. Brand-name aspirin has something that makes it more durable that

generic aspirin.

4. My method can detect relative differences in aspirin concentration.


Steam and humidity degrades aspirin, and it is possible for steam from
one's shower to affect aspirin in one's medicine cabinet. My
experiment was able to detect these changes in aspirin concentration,
and precisely, too (within almost 10% coefficient of variation). Initial
concentrations of brand name and generic aspirin were found to be
equivalent, but not necessarily “as advertised,” for my experiment was
relative, not quantitative, and I could not detect milligrams of aspirin.
According to my results, once steam is applied, generic aspirin
degrades while brand-name retains its structure.
Real World Application

Keep your aspirin sealed, in its container, away from steam. If you plan
to consume the aspirin pretty immediately, generic aspirin will suffice. If
you want your aspirin to last many days in your medicine cabinet, brand-
name is a much safer bet, as per potency.
Works Cited/Refrenced Articles
 "Aspirin." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 1 Jan 2010, 15:00 UTC.
5 Jan 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?
 University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, "Spectrophotometric Analysis of
Aspirin, Lab 019". Science in Motion.
 S. Farrel, Dr.A. Aspirin Stability. Freshman Engineering Clinic I, 2003.
 Drugs.com, "Asprin". Cerner Multum. 1/4/10