Molecular Modeling Expands Chemistry Students' Experiences

March 24, 1999

(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 the students worked at a more advanced level than anticipated.

After the first year, Bullock received a DuPont Fellowship to teach courses in molecular modeling to students and faculty members at Sweet Briar College, where she saw her students use the modeling not only in the weekly exercises she assigned, but in their biochemistry and biology labs.

Bullock will present the program on "Incorporation and evaluation of molecular modeling as a component of the undergraduate curriculum," (CHED #795) on Wednesday, March 24, at 10:45 a.m. in the West Coast Hotel, Park C room. She will describe the results of her evaluations at Virginia Tech and Sweet Briar and relate how to extend molecular modeling as a lab teaching tool in different areas of chemistry and chemical systems. The paper by Bullock, Jordan, and Brewer is part of the ACS chemical education division seminar on molecular modeling in the classroom.

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation (DUE-9750680) and the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at Virginia Tech.
-end-
Contact for more information: Karen Brewer, 540-231-6579 or kbrewer@vt.edu or ebullock@vt.edu Learn more at www.chem.vt.edu/chem-dept/brewer/brewer.html



Virginia Tech

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