Featured Projects

3D Model Kit to Visualize Molecular Orbital Theory

Project Director: Kelsey Boyle, Chemistry
Part of our 2022/2023 DLA Faculty Fellows Cohort

Chemical research often lives at the cutting edge of technology, but the same cannot always be said of how we teach chemistry. For instance, despite the important 3D structure of chemicals, we are often limited to 2D representations or drawings in our lectures and textbooks. When 3D representations are available, they are often limited to technology accessible only to experts and expensive classroom models that are inaccessible to students outside of class time. Furthermore, when student-accessible models do exist they are often limited in scope, meaning many challenging concepts are unexplored by 3D models. The development of 3D models that are both student-accessible and broaden the scope of model-able concepts would be an invaluable supplement to chemical education. While development of such models has historically been limited to manufacturers with specialized software and equipment, the development of open-source design software and commercial 3D printers opens up new avenues for professors to design, print, use, and share novel classroom tools.

Molecular Orbital Theory is an advanced theory of atomic interactions that relies heavily on 3D visualizations. I have taught this theory in both General Chemistry and in senior-level Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, and both sets of students often struggled with the visualization skills needed to correctly predict how atoms interact. A tangible model kit could help bridge the gap between visualizing and understanding for these students. To my knowledge, no such kit exists, therefore my proposal is to utilize 3D printing technology to create a model kit supplement that, when paired with a traditional model kit that students already own, will allow students to better visualize molecular orbitals and build a stronger understanding of chemistry.

This project will require many digital technologies available on campus, including 3D scanners, CAD software, and 3D printers, as well as collaboration with DRC faculty. In many ways, this project was started in the Summer of 2021, in which I consulted with members of the DRC to discuss design, feasibility, and resources needed for the project. While I was not able to create the kits that summer, I did create a large-scale paper mockup for classroom use. My experience was that the mockup did help students visualize atomic interactions and enhanced student participation during class. I believe that this DLA grant will give me the resources and support needed to bring this idea into reality and create student-accessible kits. The grant will support the development of this model kit and will allow me to share and solicit feedback on my project via a national conference in Summer 2023. The work developed during this grant will ultimately be implemented into Macalester classrooms (Chem 111 and Chem 411) and in the classrooms of collaborators in the 2023-24 academic year to assess its value to students. Results from surveys administered to professors and students will culminate in an open-source publication on the project which will include the blueprints for these kits so any faculty or student may print them free of charge.