ACS President Views Molecularium(tm) as Part of National Chemistry Week

Released: 10/19/2005 4:25 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
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Newswise — As part of his "Extreme National Chemistry Week Tour," the president of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, joined local scientists, educators, and a group of area elementary school students Oct. 19 to view the MoleculariumTM show, Riding Snowflakes, at the Children's Museum of Science and Technology in Troy, N.Y.

The show, which was conceived at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is a state-of-the-art computer-generated animation for digital dome theaters, designed to spark the interest of young children in the atoms and molecules that constitute our world. Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the show's creators have integrated advanced scientific simulations into an immersive educational animation to produce a "magical, musical adventure" to excite children about science.

ACS president Bill Carroll is crisscrossing the country Oct. 14-23, visiting 15 cities in 10 days to highlight the importance of chemistry and science education. "National Chemistry Week is ACS's annual celebration of chemistry," Carroll says. "We celebrate the science and benefits of chemistry, something that makes modern life possible."

At the MoleculariumTM event, he was joined by Richard W. Siegel, Robert W. Hunt Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center and its NSF-funded Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures; and Robert A. Carreau, interim executive director of the Children's Museum of Science and Technology. Also participating were the coordinators of National Chemistry Week for the Eastern New York section of the ACS, Yvonne Akpalu, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rensselaer, and Thomasin Miller, applications development engineer at X-ray Optical Systems, Inc., in East Greenbush.

Siegel and a team of Rensselaer faculty, along with a diverse group of artists, educators, and students, have produced a 20-minute show intended to captivate students in grades K-3 while exploring the states of matter — solid, liquid, and gas. The Moleculariumâ„¢ show is designed to be projected in a planetarium theater setting, but instead of taking people from earth to space, the show takes viewers on an audio-visual journey through the molecular-scale world.

"Moleculariumâ„¢ provides an outstanding new opportunity for educating people of all ages and introduces a new and exciting way for them to see and understand the world in which they live," Siegel says. "Public science literacy is critical to making informed decisions regarding our world, and MoleculariumTM can make a significant positive impact."

The Moleculariumâ„¢ project was conceived and led by Linda Schadler, professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer, and education and outreach coordinator for Rensselaer's NSEC. Schadler, Siegel, and Shekhar Garde, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, are the executive producers of the Moleculariumâ„¢ show.

Garde led the simulation team that brought scientific accuracy to the show. Rensselaer faculty and students developed the scientific content and created software enabling the simulation and computer rendering of millions of atoms in motion. Then the accurate simulations were imported into high-end computer animation programs to be woven around computer generated characters and incorporated into a storyline by animators Steve Rein, Blake Holland, and Joshua Minges

The executive producers assembled a team of experts to bring these scientific ideas to life on screen. The team was led by director V. Owen Bush, producer Kurt Pryzbilla, and creative director Chris Harvey. The project team represented a partnership between Rensselaer, the NSF, the Children's Museum of Science and Technology and NanotoonTM, which included faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, artists, visual effects engineers, chemical engineers, animators, programmers, other entertainment professionals, elementary school teachers, and museum staff.

The Molecularium™ storyline illustrates that everything is made of atoms and molecules which bond together to make all of the materials in the universe and that the mobility and structure of gases, liquids and solids are distinctly different. Viewers are taken on a ride in a ship, which travels from the nanoscale to the galactic scale and back. Viewers are introduced to characters named Oxy™, Carbón™, Hydro™ and Hyrdra™ (created by Leona Christie), travel along on a magical, musical, adventurous exploration of clouds, raindrops, and a snowflake, and watch the transformation from gases to liquids to solids.

Nanotechnology at Rensselaer
In September 2001, the National Science Foundation selected Rensselaer as one of the six original sites nationwide for a new Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC). As part of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, the program is housed within the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center and forms a partnership between Rensselaer, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The mission of Rensselaer's Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures is to integrate research, education, and technology dissemination, and to serve as a national resource for fundamental knowledge and applications in directed assembly of nanostructures. The five other original NSECs are located at Harvard University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Northwestern University, and Rice University.

About Rensselaer
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation's oldest technological university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.