Molecules on Computer
Chemistry students will be building molecules on computer yet this semester, thanks to a grant secured by Natural Science Department instructor Pam Smith. “Instead of making several different chemical compounds and testing them to see what works, students can build molecules on computer and test their properties, how they will react and so forth,” Smith said. “This is cutting edge in the field of chemistry.” The software, due to arrive any day, is not meant to replace the work students will conduct in wet labs. Rather, it is a supplement to the typical lab experiments.
Smith was able to attend a week-long conference at San Jose (Calif.) State University in July titled “Computational Chemistry for Chemistry Educators.” The National Computational Science Institute sponsored the conference, and Cowley’s Title III grant program paid for Smith’s attendance. Smith was the lone community college instructor among the 40-50 who attended workshops last summer, and she was one of only six people to be awarded $1,000 grants to help purchase the software. Cowley matched the grant to purchase the software package.
Smith, in her eighth year at Cowley, said the computer work students do also would save the college money in chemical expense and be safer for the students. Smith said the NCSI wanted to put the software into the hands of chemistry instructors and chemists. She said the average chemist would be able to use the software. “It’s not just for theoretical chemists, but people in research and industry can use it, too,” she said.
The grant stipulates that the software be used during the fall and spring semesters. Recipients also must give a report in May about its impact on student learning. Smith said students in Chemistry I and II and Organic Chemistry I and II would be the first to use the software. “This is a significant change in chemistry education,” Smith said. “By using computational software, the students can visualize the molecules and properties of them, and they’ll have a deeper understanding of chemistry. “Also, we hope that when they transfer to a university, they’ll be well prepared.” The software will be loaded on computers on the lower level of Renn Memorial Library. “I’m very excited,” Smith said. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.” Smith said the software could eventually be used in all chemistry classes.