Chemistry at Brighton

University of Brighton chemistry blog

Izzy Mawdsley, chemistry student

3D prints will simplify teaching chemical reactions

A ‘light bulb’ moment has resulted in funding for the University of Brighton to develop a tactile way of explaining chemical reactions. The funding for Professor Lizzy Ostler in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences and the Chemistry Research and Enterprise Group has come from the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC),

It will be used to develop 3D printed kits to make learning about chemical reactions more accessible to everyone.

Professor Ostler explained: “We were working on our online chemistry teaching materials when we hit a roadblock – how can you ‘caption’ or explain a moving chemical reaction mechanism for a screen reader?

“Then we came up with an idea – the chemistry team decided to join up with product design colleagues to create a synthetic chemistry equivalent of 3D printed fridge magnets to fix the problem.”

The project, funded by the RSC’s Inclusion and Diversity fund, will build and test their interactive synthetic chemistry display system using 3D printing technology, to make it suitable for all learners independent of the need for vision, with tactile labels as well as colour identifying atoms and bendable reaction arrows.

Professor Ostler said: “Students can arrange the kit parts on a whiteboard to show how the electrons move to form new bonds as any reaction takes place.”

Chemistry student Izzy Mawdsley, who will be playing a key role in developing the kit as part of her final year undergraduate project, said “I’m delighted to be involved with such a crucial and innovative project, which will enable a wider audience to access and engage with chemistry, at a variety of levels, and who I hope will enjoy it as much as I do.”

The kits will be evaluated for user experience and pedagogic effectiveness in taught sessions, using visual impairment glasses to mimic a range of visual acuities. A series of unfamiliar reactions will be presented to compare teaching techniques currently in use by the Chemistry@Brighton team for synthetic organic teaching with the new interactive kits.

The team will also be recruiting nationwide for chemists and chemistry students with visual impairments to try the kits and help optimise the final design.

The project team includes chemists Professor Bhavik Patel (educational research), Dr Graham Pattison (organic synthesis), Dr Marcus Dymond (3D Printing), Dr Peter Cragg (molecular modelling) and design specialists Dr Derek Covill, James Tooze and Dr Catherine Grundy.

Stephanie Thomson • June 12, 2020

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