Officers Past Meetings Committees Spencer Award Archived Files Bylaws History Multimedia


American Chemical Society Kansas City Section
PowerPoint Presentations on Chemistry and the Humanities

Rate limiting step
The phenomenon is explained for biochemistry and other disciplines. A gedanken (thought) experiment is constructed from common experience. The heme pathway is given as a formal biochemical example. Acute intermittent porphyria, the disease of Vincent van Gogh and King George III, illustrates the importance of a change in the rate limiting step. (key words: rate, limiting, step, heme, gedankenexperiment, van Gogh, porphyria) .

The van Gogh syndrome: case histories from the 20th century
Vincent van Gogh suffered from some sort of toxic psychosis and, within that group of diseases, acute intermittent porphyria (AIP) provides the best working hypothesis.  All of his documented signs and symptoms can be accommodated by AIP.  Analogous cases from the 20th century provide additional support.  We note that few patients with AIP call attention to their own dark or reddened urine during crises.  It requires ageing.  Vincent may have interpreted any sign of reddish pigmentation as blood coming from his history of scar tissue in the urethra.

On the litany of illnesses associated with Vincent van Gogh
The underlying illness of Vincent van Gogh has spawned a surplus of diagnoses from diverse sources. Most are little more than subjective opinions based on selections of facts and anecdotes. The art industry treats his illness with restraint and inhibits discussion as if too much attention, let alone scholarly enquiry, might spoil the market. The popular media keep repeating lengthy lists of possibilities but avoid judging relative merit. This essay endeavors to resolve the muddle. All of the currently available information on Vincent supports some type of toxic psychosis and, within that category, the acute intermittent porphyria hypothesis from Loftus and Arnold is a prime candidate, and worthy of more public discussion. Clearing the background nonsense will only enhance wholesome admiration for van Gogh¡¯s creations.

Vincent van Gogh and the thujone connection
The program explores van Goghs underlying illness, acute intermittent porphyria, and the way his chosen lifestyle exacerbated his condition and shortened his life.  His unusual sensitivity to alcohol and inadequate diet are reviewed.  An intriguing connection between thujone, a terpenoid in old absinthe, and a tree that grew on Vincents grave for fifteen years is described.


Chopin illness and heart  The data on Chopins fatal illness are overwhelmingly in support of tuberculosis as the cause.  At a partial necropsy in 1849, his heart was removed and sealed in a crystal urn with cognac. His disease progression may have led to tubercular pericarditis which would be visible by visual examination of the unopened urn. The relic reposes in the Church of the Holy Cross, Warsaw.

Creativity and the van Gogh legacy
Characteristics of creative achievement are analyzed in general, and then reviewed in particular with reference to the letters of Vincent van Gogh.  In addition to demonstrating hard work and unwavering commitment, he mastered technique and theory, displayed receptivity toward the ideas of others, showed organized skepticism, and  exhibited a willingness to take chances.  Above all, there was a reverence of nature which he shared with the great chemist and physicist Michael Faraday.

King George III urine and indigo blue
Stage and screen plays by Alan Bennett dramatized the illness of King George III, and evoked sympathy, titillation, humor ¡ª all within a milieu of power struggles that included the loss of the American Revolutionary War. The playwright relied heavily on the medical diagnosis of acute intermittent porphyria for the English monarch. In the final scene two attendants remark upon their Kings return to health and observe that the royal urine which had been blue is now normal. The remarkable thing for any student of porphyria is the reference to blue because porphyric urines, after aging, are associated with red, reddish-brown, or purple pigments. This PowerPoint presentation explains the historic observations.

The Biochemistry of Heme and the Chemistry of Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh had an identifiable syndrome, based on medical signs and the time-course of his illness. His life-style directly influenced the expression and severity of symptoms, exacerbated his condition, and provoked crises. The data support a unifying hypothesis of acute intermittent porphyria as the artist underlying disease, from which two of his five siblings also suffered.

Van Goghs Yellow Palette
The dominance of the yellow region of the spectrum has been explored within a sample of van Gogh paintings created in Paris, Arles, St. Remy, and Auvers. Examples of high yellow pintings were not limited to any time or place, thus ruling out effects of season and climate. Suggestions of reversible xanthopsia (yellow vision) induced by over dosage with the drugs digitoxin or santonin, or by natural yellowing of the lens with age, were not supported. We conclude that about 10% of van Gogh paintings from the four venues are high yellow and due to artistic preference.