Accessing current research in the classroom: Computational tools for exploring physical chemistry
Joel David Adcock, The University of Texas at Austin, United States
The University of Texas at Austin . Awarded
In the natural sciences, virtually all of the material in the curriculum of higher education has an origin in research. The process of integrating current research into course materials is often lengthy and difficult. This study attempts to identify ways to transfer the techniques and results of current scientific research into the undergraduate curriculum in a more timely manner. Physical and theoretical chemistry are the subject area of the study because of the high level of abstraction in the material. Furthermore, based on the growth in enrollment of undergraduate students, we explore computational approaches which can be used with large numbers of students, either in a class setting, or asynchronously. To this end, we identify and explore two different methods for accomplishing this transfer of technology. First, we have designed an application server which provides undergraduate students with access to large, research-quality computer programs through the medium of the World Wide Web. This server allows students to use the tools of research to reinforce basic concepts and to explore chemical phenomena computationally. In this way, the student gains familiarity with the procedures of analyzing chemical systems using the computational tools of research. Web accessibility offers administrative convenience for the instructor, while the application server provides secure access to the computer. Second, we have created animation tools for the purpose of providing scientific visualization of current research in theoretical chemistry. The digital animations created in this study illustrate phenomena which are the topics of current research. Each animation employs high quality, “realistic” images produced by a ray-traced rendering program for a visually rich and engaging presentation. Camera motion and directed lighting of the scene highlight the important concepts that are represented in the data. The resulting animations are useful to students, who can more easily visualize the complex processes, and are often useful to the researchers, who gain a more complete understanding of the data. A CD-ROM which accompanies this document contains examples of these animations, many of which have also been transferred to VHS and Betamax video and to a Web site.
Adcock, J.D. Accessing current research in the classroom: Computational tools for exploring physical chemistry. Ph.D. thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.
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