From designing hygiene products to researching protein folding, understanding chemistry is key to dealing with the virus and ultimately to finding a remedy. With this in mind, Kim and Felix got together to create an educational toy teaching how atoms (A) turn into molecules (M): A-to-M
The system consists of stackable disks, each representing one atom. To form molecules, the disks are connected. Along the connections, they communicate via infrared light. The whole system is connected wirelessly to an app running on the player's phone. The app controls gameplay, and it provides a voice assistant for help and background story. Accurate representation of nature is not an objective of A-to-M. Players learn fundamental concepts and scientific thinking.
(1) A new challenge is generated, for example assembly of CO₂. In the center of each disk, an LED lights up, the color of which indicates the type of atom. Around this LED, there are green LEDs representing valence electrons. On the outside of each disk, there are three LEDs indicating progress. From the phone, the player hears the voice assistant providing instructions: “Take the two oxygen atoms and the carbon atom, and assemble CO₂.”
(2) The player connects the disks. Valence electrons move towards the bonds as indicated by changing green LEDs. Information about how disks are connected is wirelessly being transmitted to the base station. From there it is passed on to the phone, which provides voice assistance: “Now connect oxygen.”
(3) When there are eight green LEDs around the center, this means that the octet rule has been obeyed. To indicate achievement, the three outside LEDs turn from red to yellow. Assistant: “Congratulations! The atoms are connected in the correct order.”
(4) With the help of the voice assistant, the player reorients the disks so that the charge distribution becomes even. The shape has been found, and the three outside LEDs turn from yellow to green.
(5) Finally, with all disks correctly connected, the molecule flashes in bright colors. Success! The voice assistant congratulates the player and provides additional information. “Congratulations, you have found the shape of CO₂. Carbon dioxide is found in the earth’s atmosphere. […]”
(6) Now it’s time to level up and get introduced to new concepts.
Further modes of play can be added later. In fact the system could be reprogrammed to teach concepts related to fields outside of chemistry. Multiplayer games are conceivable.
Kim has a HKUST BSc in biochemistry and cell biology. She is a professional athlete. Felix has an academic background in architecture and physics. Over the past years, he has been designing various connected construction toys.
SAT, JUN 20, 2020 Updated