Submitted by Joanne Stewart / Hope College on Thu, 05/23/2019 - 13:13
My Notes

This is the fifth in a series of exercises used to teach computational chemistry. It has been adapted, with permission, from a Shodor CCCE exercise ( It uses the WebMO interface for drawing structures and visualizing results. WebMO is a free web-based interface to computational chemistry packages (

In this exercise, students perform infrared, thermochemistry, UV-Vis, and NMR calculations. They compare the results from different methods and basis sets to experimental values.

The exercise provides detailed instructions, but does assume that students are familiar with WebMO and can build molecules and set up calculations.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Calculate an IR spectrum. Visualize the normal modes. Use appropriate scale factors to “correct” the calculated values.
  2. Calculate NMR spectra and average the chemical shift values for the static structures (in 1H NMR) to approximate the experimental spectrum.
  3. Calculate UV-Vis spectra.
Equipment needs

Students need access to a computer, the internet, and WebMO (with Mopac and Gaussian). 

Implementation Notes

I use this as an in-class exercise. Students bring their own laptops and access our institution's installation of WebMO through wifi.

Time Required
2 hours


Evaluation Methods

This exercise takes longer than a 50 minute class period, so we get as far as we can in one class and the students complete the exercise as homework. Students write their answers to the questions directly on the handout. Tables are provided for recording numerical results, but because of some (simple) required mathematical manipulations, it is easier if students set up a spreadsheet and record their numerical results there. The handouts with their answers and printed copies of their spreadsheet are collected in the next class.

Evaluation Results

In Exercise 1, the vibrational spectrum of formaldehyde is calcuated by three different methods. Because the vibrational modes come out in a different order, energy-wise, in one of the methods, students have trouble keeping track of which vibration is which. Each mode is labeled with the correct symmetry label, which should help them. Plus, they can click on each mode and visualize it.

Exercise 2 involves calcuating delta H for an "isodesmic" reaction: one in which the total number and type of bonds is the same in reactants and products. This helps cancel any systematic errors in the calculations. If this is one of the first time that students have worked in "hartrees," it is helpful to explain that unit to them. Students compare semi-empirical calculations with HF and DFT, and in this example, the HF and DFT calculations give much more accurate results.

Exercise 3 is about calculating UV-Vis spectra, but more importantly it walks students through drawing more complicated molecules. The CIS/ZINDO approach is used for the UV-Vis calcuation, which may not be highly accurate, but is very fast, so students get rapid results that they can compare.

In Exercise 4, students calculate NMR spectra for three different molecules. It teaches students about chemical shifts, but it does not cover coupling constants. If students are experienced with NMR, the averaging of proton resonances (such as the three protons in a methyl group) has become second nature to them. This exercise forces them to think about how those resonances are averaged.


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