30 Apr 2014

Inorganic Spectroscopy Introduced Using an Interactive PhET Simulation (Part 1)

In-Class Activity

Submitted by Alycia Palmer, The Ohio State University

A guided-inquiry activity for the interactive PhET simuation "Molecules and Light" was created to introduce upper-level inorganic laboratory students to inorganic spectroscopy. The activity included here is the first part of a two-day discussion. This activity instructs students to use the PhET simulation "Molecules and Light" to explore how various molecules interact with different energies of electromagnetic radiation (microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet). This activity can also be used in a general chemistry setting as the topics discussed are very basic.

The PhET simulation "Molecules and Light" was chosen because it integrates with the inorganic laboratory "Linkage isomerism of nitrogen dioxide." The simulation helps students to visualize how nitrogen dioxide gas interacts with infrared light, and in the laboratory, students collect FT-IR spectra of nitrogen dioxide coordinated to a metal.

The second part of the activity ("Inorganic Spectroscopy Introduced Using an Interactive PhET Simulation (Part 2)") builds on topics learned by interacting with the PhET simulation. That activity is most useful for upper level inorganic laboratory students who will be performing spectroscopy experiments. Materials for Part 2 are also shared on VIPER.

A special thank you goes to the other contributors of these activities: Julia Chamberlain, PhD; Ted Clark, PhD; and Rebecca Ricciardo, PhD


Learning Goals: 

Students should be able to:

  • describe how a set of example molecules interacts with light of varying energy
  • identify characteristics of molecules that are associated with an interaction with light
  • construct a set of guidelines that generalize how molecules react with light of varying energy (microwave, infrared, visible, ultraviolet)
  • apply these guidelines to predict the reactivity with light for a small molecule which is not in the simulation. The instructor may wish to assign molecules that are shown in another simulation "Molecule Polarity" in order to provide nice visualizations. These include: ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, methane, CF4, and CH2F2.
Equipment needs: 

In order for students to successfully use the PhET simulation, one computer is suggested per 3-4 students.


Implementation Notes: 

Facilitator notes are included as comments on all documents and can be viewed by selecting "Show Comments" under the review tab in Power Point or "Show all markup" under the review tab in Word.

This activity was implemented in a lecture setting with a class of 16 students. The group work was implemented during the 1-hour class that meets weekly and accompanies the 3-hour inorganic laboratory. Students were instructed before class to bring their own computer and to download the simulation.

Time Required: 
One 55-minute class period
Evaluation Methods: 

The learning goals were informally assessed through conversations between the facilitators and students during both class periods (for this and the related LO). Also, student worksheets were collected after class to analyze student responses. Finally, students were asked to complete a survey about the activity and if they feel that the PhET activity should be used in future classes to introduce the topic of inorganic spectroscopy.

Evaluation Results: 

Students were engaged with the Molecules and Light activity which utilized the PhET simulation. Groups of 3-4 students are a good size to encourage all students to be involved in discussion. On the portions of the worksheet that asked for generalizations, the responses were vague and only scratched the surface. In the future, the instructor may wish to lead a class discussion to brainstorm for ideas about which features of molecules make them reactive to the four types of radiation in the simulation.

At the end of the second class period (after the second activity described in the related LO), students were asked to evaluate the PhET simulation and accompanying worksheet. Eleven (out of 16) students responded that the simulation should be used in future classes to provide background before topics about inorganic spectroscopy are discussed. Only one student said that it shouldn't be because it only introduced basic concepts. Four students either did not answer or did not take a definite stance.

Overall, students were satisfied with the PhET simulation and the accompanying worksheets. Also, based on the student responses to the worksheets, the instructors feel that the learning goals were met.

Creative Commons License: 
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