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Albion College App Teaches Chemistry Bonding

A professor of chemistry at Albion College in Michigan has developed a new iOS app to help her students learn about chemical bonding. This isn't the first mobile program Lisa Lewis has developed for her classes. Previously, she created one focused on helping students understand strong acids and strong bases and how to recognize them. But whereas she programmed that app herself, for the latest one she worked with a collaborator.

According to Lewis, the new app, named Chemical Valence, has a "game-like" interface "where students can play with fundamental concepts in chemical bonding while learning the ways in which valence electrons organize themselves in chemical bonding." The user can push valence electrons around to form covalent bonds or lone pairs on the molecule. Images of 2D Lew structures "morph" into 3D objects to help students visualize the "geometry" of the molecules.

Currently, the app has five interactive levels. Concepts become more complicated as the student progresses from level to level. Each level also has open-ended reflection questions.

Lewis intends to use the app in a general chemistry class, chemical structure and equilibrium. Instead of lecturing students on how to draw Lewis dot diagrams, she's planning to have them play with the app and come to class ready to discuss the reflection questions. That shift may also change up the order of topics in the course. "Normally, students learn how to write the 2-D Lewis dot structures before learning how to translate a 2-D structure into a 3-D structure," she explained. "I expect, with this app's design that my students will ask important questions about the 3-D implications of their 2-D structures much earlier and hopefully this will translate into a deeper understanding of bonding."

She's also hoping that upper class students will turn to the app for review on fundamental concepts before tackling organic and inorganic chemistry.

Lewis worked with collaborator Alex Clark, whose company, Molecular Materials Informatics, builds mobile apps to support professional chemists.

Chemical Valence sells for $0.99 in Apple's App Store.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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