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Education

ACS Meeting News: Start-up showcases organic chemistry education app

by Matt Davenport
April 3, 2017

Structure of dimethyl phthalate (DMP)
This screenshot from the Animator app shows one of the steps in an aldol reaction. Credit: Alchemie Solutions

It’s no surprise that chemists from young tech companies are among the thousands convening at the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Francisco. After all, the Bay Area is home to roughly a third of C&EN’s first two classes of “start-ups to watch.”

One Michigan-based company, however, isn’t rolling out new 3-D printers or DNA biotechnology at the meeting. Alchemie Solutions is instead hoping its mobile applications will provide valuable tools for people teaching and learning organic chemistry.

The company released its latest app, called Animator, just ahead of the San Francisco meeting. Attendees listening to Julia Winter, Alchemie’s founder and chief executive officer, on Monday were thus among the first to see Animator in action. Winter spoke in a session hosted by the Division of Chemical Education.

Alchemie designed Animator to enable students and teachers to create and share animations of chemical and physical processes at the molecular level. Interested readers can download the app for iOS or Android devices at http://www.alchem.ie/animator/.

The app helps users draw atoms, molecules, and other particles that can be rearranged to illustrate sequential steps in a process, say an aldol reaction. The app fills in the gaps between steps, meaning it’s not a tedious frame-by-frame affair, explained Winter, a former high school chemistry teacher.

This aldol reaction was created with the Animator app, which its creators describe as an “open-ended tool” for making and sharing molecular animations. Credit: Alchemie Solutions/YouTube

“This is the first time I’ve seen a product that would help me get the animations out of my head and in front of students,” said Michelle Driessen, a chemistry professor and director of general chemistry at the University of Minnesota. “This should be a tremendous aid.”

Driessen will be bringing Animator into her general chemistry class later in April in what Winter calls a “major trial run.”

In March, Alchemie received $700,000 from the National Science Foundation in Phase II Small Business Innovation Research funding. One of several goals for that grant is to strengthen the educational value of Animator and Alchemie’s other apps, Winter said. This includes the puzzle games Chairs, which is available to download, and Mechanisms, which is in development.

Winter, Alchemie cofounder Carl Rundell, and chief technology officer Joe Engalan are working to make the programs adapt to a user’s skill level, as well as provide student assessment data to instructors.

“It’ll be a challenge,” Winter said. “But that’s why we got an innovation grant.”

Animator can also be used to make more physically oriented animations, such as this one illustrating Boyle’s law. Credit: Alchemie Solutions/YouTube

 

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