Submitted by Lori Watson / Earlham College on Sat, 11/17/2007 - 18:35
My Notes
Topics Covered

Students are sent to find (and take pictures) of  items in various point groups around campus.  Generally, I give them a list of possible offices (though they are free to go to other places) and point groups (some hard) and the following ground rules:


  •  You must not destroy anything.
  • You may only find one object per office.
  • You may not interrupt any meeting or class.
  • You must say thank you to the people in the office you interact with.

I hide some "special" objects that are hard to find point groups (i.e. a soccer ball in the President's Office).

The team to come back with pictures and correct point group identifications of the most objects in a set time period (30-45 minutes) wins a prize.


Attachment Size
Symmetry Scavenger Hunt.doc 27.5 KB
Learning Goals

After finishing this activity students should be able to apply knowledge of symmetry operations and the point group flow chart to everyday objects.

Students will also appreciate that symmetry is everywhere!!! 

Equipment needs

A camera for every group (or students with camera phones) is helpful.

Related activities
Implementation Notes

Staff in "lesser known" offices really enjoy interacting with the students.  For example, I often put one of the special objects in the head of housekeeping's office and another in the head of the cafeteria office.  Our president and staff (properly warned!) also like having students come by!

Time Required
About 1 hour


Evaluation Methods

On future quizzes or exams, students are asked to determine the point group of a molecule (or several!).

Evaluation Results

Students typically are able to find correct point groups for their objects, but sometimes don't find them all within the appropriate amount of time.

Creative Commons License
Attribution, Non-Commercial CC BY-NC
Hilary Eppley / DePauw University
I actually used this activity earlier this semester and assigned it as a class homework where students worked in teams and posted their pictures to a wiki on the class Moodle site. --Hilary
Sat, 04/05/2008 - 18:24 Permalink
Brad Wile / Ohio Northern University

I had the (5) students in my class this semester do this with some alterations. I set this as a take home assignment, and simply told them to take pictures of objects around the campus, residence halls, town, etc. The students split into two groups (one of 2 students, one of 3) and immediately turned the assignment into a challenge to find more point group than the other! I encouraged them to try to align themselves with the principle axis in the photos, although they seemed to be a little camera shy. In general, I was impressed with how creative they were in finding objects of high symmetry (D&D dice, school logos, car hubcaps!)

I think next year I will do a similar assignment, with a few variations (to be posted to VIPER when I get a chance to compile a nice looking sample), namely having them photoshop in principle axes and important symmetry elements.

Thu, 03/26/2009 - 00:03 Permalink
Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College
I used this activity as a problem set question early in the semester for my inorganic class.  I asked each group of 3-4 to come up with as many different point groups as possible, and to provide pictures and point group assignments.  The students enjoyed doing the activity, and I got some, shall I say, interesting, objects in a few cases.  I was a bit disappointed in the students ability to see that some of their objects had the same point group and therefore didn't count for their score.
Wed, 06/09/2010 - 14:36 Permalink
Randall Hicks / Wheaton College

I actually used this activity in the lab portion of my course last semester. We don't have discussions/conferences/recitations, so I had to sneak it in there somehow. Using Lori's original as a template, I wrote up a short assignment handout for the students. If anybody would like a copy, just ask. Similarly, students were allowed to roam campus and take pictures of objects to satisfy as many point groups as they could find. After ~90 minutes, we all met up in an empty classroom, uploaded and evaluated each others' pictures. Other that the rain that we endured one day, the students really liked doing this activity. As Adam noted in his comment, I also had students with redundant point group examples. Plus, I had some correct (but chemically unimportant) examples of symmetry point groups such as C8v. Generally, though, their pictures were good and accurate representations.

I awarded a prize to the two students of the group that correctly exemplified the most point groups. I purchased copies of a book titled Symmetry: A Unifying Concept by Hargittai and Hargittai (from 1994, out of print I believe, but available via eBay and the like). The students seemed to like the book. I kept a copy for myself too, as there were numerous pictures that I could use for in class examples.

Tue, 06/29/2010 - 11:10 Permalink
Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College
you could, of course, post your handout and link it back to this one.... :)
Wed, 06/30/2010 - 10:17 Permalink
Sandrin (not verified)
Nice activity. It soccer ball in the President's Office reminds me of the film about students who made fun at each other. I think it is a nice task for a student. At least it will be one of the things they will remember even after their graduation.
Fri, 11/19/2010 - 09:42 Permalink
Karen McFarlane Holman / Willamette University
This activity is a winner.  My students had a blast doing it, and we had a very fruitful discussion afterwards.  I bought the Hargittai & Hargittai book that Randall suggested above and the winner was the envy of all.
Mon, 05/02/2011 - 05:04 Permalink
Joanne Stewart / Hope College

Technical question. What's the easiest way for students to share their results? Last year, some of my students put their pictures into PowerPoint and labeled each one with the point group. I shared the PowerPoint with the class. Hilary said students uploaded them to Moodle. What exactly did they upload? Our Moodle doesn't have the photo album module any more. There's got to be an easy way to do this that makes the results accessible to others.

Fri, 01/06/2012 - 15:37 Permalink
Adam Johnson / Harvey Mudd College

what about a picassa web album or something like that?


a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, just like the rest of the internet.

Sat, 01/07/2012 - 07:11 Permalink
Sheila Smith / University of Michigan- Dearborn

I used this as one question on a 100 point homwork assignment this semester.  It was worth ten points , one point for each correct picture.  I used the same subset of point groups that Lori assigned and gave these instructions:

9.  Symmetry Scavenger Hunt-


Find and take a picture of an object that fits each of the point groups below:

·      C1, Cs, C2v, C3v, C4v, D2h, D3h, D4h, Td, Ih

To get credit for each item you must take a picture of the item, record where you found it, and correctly identify the point group.  Incorrect identifications subtract from correct identifications.   Web pics are not allowed, you must actually find objects.

Upload your pictures to the cTools page (I will create a folder for this).


Ctools is UM's course management software (Sakai based).  It as a dropbox functionality and each student uploaded their jpeg files into their own dropbox for me to look at at my leisure.

Students enjoyed the project, and I got some interesting pictures.  

On the day before the exam, I pulled afew of them out into a powerpoint and we went through them as a class as a review of point group identification.

Wed, 11/07/2012 - 12:43 Permalink
Andy Mobley / Grinnell College

I used the idea for a five minute assignment on the first day of point groups.  It was snowing and we have a bunch of windows that were collecting blowing snow.  We simply looked at windows until we found a "perfect" snowflake.  With a magnifying glass it was easy to see the 6-fold symmetry elements.  We had a brief discussion about the individual elements that one could see and then went back to the classroom.  

Mon, 02/25/2013 - 06:19 Permalink
Karen McFarlane Holman / Willamette University

I have done this activity every year for the past five years!  Students love it!  I keep switching up what the prizes are, depending on how on-the-ball I am that year, but honestly students are excited even without an award.  My class is large enough lately (28+) that I will need to have them work on teams instead of individuals.  Thanks for this great LO!!

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 20:57 Permalink
Ellen Steinmiller / University of Dallas

I have done this the last two times I taught inorganic.  The students love it!  The last time I assigned this as an in class project and gave the students 30 minutes to find a minimum of 5 objects with unique point groups.  The students worked in teams of 2-3 and each team had at least one smart phone with a camera.  Students emailed pictures to me as they found unique point groups with the point group in the subject line.  I planned on downloading the pictures to a powerpoint presentation with one point group per slide, but techology was slow that day.  When students arrived for the end of class, we went through the emails.  It was a great learning experience for the students.  Most point groups were assigned correctly, but it was really helpful to go through the objects as a class and discuss symmetry elements.  I gave an award for the most unique point group.

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 01:37 Permalink
Arpita Saha / Georgia Southern University

I have used this last semester in my Advanced Inorganic Class. My students thoroughly enjoyed this. It was a lab project and they took photos and prepared a presentation at end of the hunting.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they recognize so many interesting objects with several symmetry elements and sometimes rare point group too! I'm going to use it again in this semester.


Thu, 09/10/2015 - 17:07 Permalink
Kari Young / Centre College

I have used this LO as a companion to Dean Johnson's Symmetry@Otterbein Challenge. I agree that it is a winner! My students work in groups of 3-4 and look for objects around our residential campus.  I've brought digital cameras in the past, but this year I ceded that each group had at least one smart phone.  My students have struggled the most to find objects in Td and D3h groups.  I give each group a bag of Warheads Sour Cubes "to help them on their journey"...and to find the Oh point group that I added to the list.  I've been looking for tetrahedral candy, but I guess no one wants pointy triangular sweets. 

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 13:36 Permalink
Brad Wile / Ohio Northern University

I have been trying to locate a box of Diamond crystal kosher salt since it isn't available for purchase in my region, which I understand has a more tetrahedral shape to the salt flakes. Might be a suitable handout for the symmetry challenge. Maybe a salted caramel for the road?

Sun, 06/28/2020 - 11:01 Permalink
Karen McFarlane Holman / Willamette University

This is my third time over the years commenting on this LO, haha! I've since changed it from a class activity to an assignment after we changed from a 4-days-per-week class to meeting 3-days-per-week. Still love it!

Wed, 06/21/2023 - 10:14 Permalink