Molecular Modeling Expands Chemistry Students' Experiences

(Blacksburg, Va.) How to teach today's chemistry student more without adding a class or diluting current offerings? That is the challenge that faces university chemistry departments. Virginia Tech graduate student Elizabeth Bullock and her major professor Karen J. Brewer, along with postdoctoral associate Michael Jordan, will present their solution at the 217th American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting in Anaheim March 21-26.

Bullock, Jordan, and Brewer are using computers to help students understand the properties of molecules, "but not just as an isolated computer experiences," says Brewer.

The students are introduced to specific molecules and explore their characteristics on the computer, then make the actual compounds in the laboratory and compare the results with the computer model. "We use the web and hyperlinked tutorials in the lab as well as the classroom," says Brewer. "The computer is important but the lessons mean more if they are not isolated computer exercises."

Bullock and Brewer began to use molecular modeling two years ago with senior chemistry majors in inorganic chemistry, "Then Professors James Tanko and Harry Gibson expressed interest in our assistance to expand to larger sections of organic chemistry for sophomores," Brewer says.

Bullock took a graduate course in educational research and designed an evaluation tool for the instructional technique.

"The students love it," says Brewer. "It is one of the most positive student response I've ever had."

What the students like is the freedom to explore their own interests. "Projects differ from student to student and they work much harder on these experiments. The students get new modeling results and often make compounds no one has ever made before."

Molecular modeling in the undergraduate courses began as a somewhat structured set of exercises, but evolved to a more student-driven learning tool as

Contact: Karen Brewer
Virginia Tech

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