People have always been
fascinated with objects that can't be seen with the naked eye.
One only has to observe students taking their first look at microscopic
organisms through a microscope, or the rings of Saturn through
are now just at the threshold of being able to visualize molecules.
Crystallographic techniques, advanced scanning devices and sophisticated
software programs have provided scientists with tools that can
provide realistic models for many molecules. The power of the
computer is fast approaching the point at which we will soon be
able to model molecules and their motion with a fair degree of
students get their first exposure to atomic and molecular structure
in elementary school by building model atoms or simple crystal
lattices such as salt. In middle school, textbooks begin to introduce
simple organic molecules, more advanced crystal structures and
water and ice structures. Although all schools now consider the
microscope a necessity in the classroom to view microscopic objects,
few schools have provided tools for students to visualize molecules.
What is perhaps not known to many educators is that time and effort
is all that is necessary --provided the school has a computer
and link to the internet. During
the past few years scientists have provided several excellent
molecular viewers to the scientific community. Several of these
programs are ideally suited for use in K-12 education. These programs
are public domain and simply require knowledge of use and a fairly
modern computer (something that most schools now have).
is still much controversy concerning what grade level molecular
visualization should begin. Many educators feel that molecular
structure should not be introduced until high school, since it
may confuse students understanding of macroscopic processes. But
other educators feel that middle school is actually an ideal starting
point for introducing molecules. Project MathMol aims to target
middle school students, introducing basic molecular concepts and
linking them to familiar mathematical topics. We hope teachers
will integrate some of the MathMol activities into their mathematics
and/or physical science curriculum. Considering the importance
of molecular concepts for the 21st century it is important to
provide a strong foundation for students as early as possible.