Wu animates study of science
By Katie Sinclair
Published on Monday, October 3, 2011
“Welcome to Science World, Adam!” intones a disembodied voice at the beginning of the short video “Adam and Stereochemistry’s Big Adventure.” Adam, like many Dartmouth students before him, finds himself baffled by the nuances and subtleties of organic chemistry. Nevertheless, by the end of the 7.5 minute video, Adam, along with the viewers, is able to understand and apply the somewhat mind-boggling concept of stereochemistry, a subfield of chemistry that studies the spatial organization of atoms within molecules.
This novel approach to teaching chemistry is the result of the combined efforts of Dartmouth chemistry professor Jimmy Wu, digital arts professors Laurie Loeb and Jodie Mack, and Eric Swanson ’11 and Erika Murillo ’13. The project was funded through Wu’s CAREER grant, offered by the National Science Foundation to college faculty members who have only been teaching for a few years. A key part of the grant involves outreach, and Wu decided that putting together short, animated videos to help supplement traditional high school chemistry classes would have the most impact.
“I wanted to do something different,” Wu said.
Charming and irreverent, the videos succeed in making sense of important facets of chemistry. While parts of the animation look hand-drawn, both videos were created digitally. Visual puns and wry humor keep the videos engaging and explain key concepts in an accessible way that avoids condescending tones.
So far the group has released two videos, “Adam and Stereochemistry’s Big Adventure” and “Polymer Party,” which introduces and explains the importance of various polymers, which are large molecules formed from repetitions of structural units.
Swanson helped spearhead the production during Spring 2011, and Murillo helped with the production during the Summer term. Neither student is a chemistry major — both work in the digital arts department with Loeb — but Wu said he had little difficulty explaining concepts to them.
Murillo is a member of The Dartmouth Comics Staff.
“I teach Chem 51: Introduction to Organic Chemistry, so I’m used to explaining the basic concepts,” Wu said.
For Wu, stereochemistry and polymers were the self-evident choices for the first two topics of his video series.
“Stereochemistry is a subject that is near and dear to my heart,” said Wu, who spent much of his time in graduate school studying stereochemistry.
Wu said he chose polymers because they are important in almost every branch of organic chemistry. “Polymer Party” features an anthropomorphic polymer strand named “Edgar Allan Poelymer” who introduces the befuddled student, Polly, to an assortment of his polymer friends.
Though the videos are made with a high school audience in mind, Wu said he expects them to be helpful to college students taking introductory chemistry courses as well.
Wu has yet to conceive of a concrete plan for disseminating his videos, although he has been promoting them at lectures and conferences. The videos are also posted on Dartmouth’s website and on YouTube.
Production of the videos is set to resume in Winter term, with help from Shloka Kini ’13, who is working with Wu, Mack and Loeb as a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar. The topic for the next video has yet to be decided, but Wu hopes they will be able to finish it over the course of Winter term.
“What I’d like to do someday is make a lot of these, put them on a disk, and send them to every high school chemistry class,” Wu said.
The original article stated that Mack and Loeb were largely responsible for the video's production. In fact, Swanson and Murillo produced the video while Loeb, Mack and Wu provided administrative oversight, according to Murillo.