For beginner chemistry students, visualizing the shape of molecules tends to be difficult and can serve as a barrier to learning in the classroom. The traditional method of teaching this includes a clunky physical kit with wooden sticks and balls that can be shaped into different molecules. Our team within JMU’s X-Labs Innovation in Immersive Technology class decided to revolutionize this by developing an augmented reality (AR) application. Thanks to this, students will now have the ability to easily see and interact with 3D models of the 2D images in a new and exciting way.
Introductory chemistry courses have been taught the same way for the past 50 years, using outdated technology and ineffective visualizations. The first demonstration our team was shown of this concept consisted of balloons, strings, and a long stick with a metal loop at the end. Though it helped visualize how a molecule is shaped depending on its electrons, the set-up for this was time consuming, messy, and complicated. In the classroom, professors and students use large, clunky sets of balls and sticks daily to build each molecule. These sets are expensive, inconvenient and frustrating. Our solution to these issues is the new method of using augmented reality.
AR helps students visualize “hard-to-grasp” topics such as molecular bonds and shape by taking advantage of the extra spatial dimension that is usually lost on a 2-dimensional textbook page. This is also done without the need for complicated physical demonstrations. Our application allows people to learn with ease and convenience, while engaging them in the subject.
As we began developing, we wanted to enable various use cases and give our users several options to learn from. Our staple and most basic feature is an augmented reality molecule scanning tool. This tool shows a 3D molecule model that is able to be scaled, rotated, and looked around. The next feature we hope to develop is a sandbox/builder mode, which could be used to manipulate molecules and see the effects of interaction between atoms.
We have noticed that students become much more engaged with learning when using this application and AR in general. The learning process becomes much more than pure memorization, and focuses on understanding the material in a 3D space that they can relate to. When a classroom of test students were asked if they would prefer to use an app to learn these concepts, there was a unanimous agreement in favor.
Meet the Team
Computer Information Systems, Junior
Industrial Design, Senior
Media Arts & Design and Computer Information Systems, Senior
Math and Computer Science, Senior
Computer Science, Junior