If you are on Twitter and follow #chemchat, you may have recently seen some beautiful, rotating 3D atomic and molecular models from Dave Doherty @atomsNMolecules. I was curious about these models and after contacting Dave, he introduced me to The Atomic Dashboard.
The Atomic Dashboard is one of a number of software products developed by Bitwixt Software Systems as tools for improving students’ ability to "see" and understand chemistry. The products run on Windows, Macs and iPads and are targeted toward middle school physical science through entry-level college. What the products all have in common are 3D simulation and visualization models that teachers and students use to explore topics that include atomic and molecular structure, chemical bonding, periodic trends, chemical reactions, and gas law behavior. The Atomic Dashboard uses physics-based models (some of which are patented), that are based on the models that are used in actual chemical research, not cartoons.
The developers mention, “We have worked very hard to make these models interactive and intuitive for students to use. We want students (and teachers) to feel as if they are holding atoms and molecules in their hands and seeing them interact. Our Mac and Windows product, The Atomsmith Classroom, couples the models with an inquiry-based, interactive/e-book curriculum that can be used in classrooms and as homework to supplement lectures and wet-lab work, allowing students to perform virtual experiments on the 3D models.”
Dave says, “That was the idea when I designed it -- to have all kinds of useful (and interesting) information and visuals available at your fingertips. And all connected and easily accessible -- a ‘dashboard.’”
What It Can Do
As a high school chemistry teacher, I wanted to see how I could use this in my classroom and then asked the same of my colleague who teaches AP chemistry. I also had some of his current AP students take a look at the program. All of us were quickly impressed with the number of features the program provided.
In one unit, we spent time looking at each of the different sublevels and orbitals and blowing up balloons to show students their shapes, such as spherical and dumbbell, as well as the unique shapes of d and f orbitals. Understanding these shapes can easily get lost as the models of the orbitals morph into a Bohr type model that is mostly 2D. Students will often lose visualization of the different shapes of the sublevels and miss the connection between the two. However, the Atomic Dashboard solves this problem. Dave mentions, “I wanted to show people that the elements are just as beautiful (if not more!) at the "nanoscopic" scale too. That's what visualizing the electron configurations with 3D models of the atomic orbitals is all about. Think of an atom as a 3D puzzle whose pieces are these bizarrely shaped orbitals that you can "explode" by sliding them apart, then put them back together to see how an atom is really constructed -- it's not just a bunch of concentric rings with electrons winging round (the Bohr model).”
When I shared with the AP students this capability of “exploding” the atom, it was really interesting to see the student’s faces as they realized how the sublevels all fit together to make up the current model of the atom.
Another feature I looked at was the 3D models in the “News” section. Dave mentioned he spent a lot of time building models of molecules in the news to connect the elements to students' everyday lives and increase science literacy. Articles include using cellulose acetate from cigarette butts to make batteries or the use of methanol fuel cells to power villages in South Africa, and more. I shared some of this with students in my conceptual chemistry class as an introduction to chemistry at the beginning of the school year, and suggested to them that they begin looking for articles regarding chemicals in the news. This was a perfect lead in to a future project that I have planned. The 3D Molecule Library and Molecular Mass Calculator, found in the Tools menu, is also another great tool that I will be using during the year.
As a flipped learning teacher, I make several videos on my own and have found myself bouncing back and forth between certain Periodic Table apps and websites only to later spend additional time editing out all of the extra navigation. The reason is that one app contained the element values that I wanted to show, but another website showed the element grouping, and yet another app showed a graphical model of some of the trends. Well, the Atomic Dashboard contains everything I need and more. It has so many features that are great for chemistry students and teachers to have on their desktops as an everyday quick reference tool. No longer will I have to bounce between websites and apps looking for the information I want to share.
I highly recommend The Atomic™ Dashboard, but you can also read reviews from others. While there, also check out The Atomsmith® Classroom, Atomsmith® Molecule Lab, and Atomsmith® Molecule Lab and Middle School.
You can see The Atomic Dashboard in action in this YouTube Video
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I'd also point folks toward the free resources from concord.org. They are based on the next generation of molecular workbench software. I'm not strictly speaking a chemistry teacher, so I can't speak to how their materials work in that setting, but my physical science students find them really helpful. As someone who teaches in a high need/low income area, I'm always conscious of cost.
I too am familiar with the Molecular Workbench and have used it. Thank you for sharing another great resource.