Submitted by Dean Johnston / Otterbein University on Sat, 03/28/2009 - 23:42
My Notes

The resources contained within this web site are designed to help students learn concepts of molecular symmetry and to help faculty teach concepts of molecular symmetry.

  • Symmetry Tutorial - An interactive point group symmetry tutorial. Guides students through all of the symmetry elements and operations, with interactive displays and animations.
  • Symmetry Gallery - A collection of nearly 70 unique molecules with interactive display of all symmetry elements and animation of all operations. The molecules are organized by point group, so you can select examples to demonstrate particular symmetry elements. Includes links to the chemical literature when available.
  • Symmetry Challenge - Using the same set of molecules from the Gallery, the Challenge includes a flow chart that details the process of determining the point group of each molecule. A great way to practice the point group determination process.
Implementation Notes

I have used these materials both for in-class demonstrations as well as for outside assignments when students are first learnin­g concepts of point group symmetry.

System Requirements: ­All pages require a modern browser with both Java and Javascript enabled. These pages are fully compatible with Internet Explorer 6 and 7 (PC), Safari (Mac & Windows), and Firefox 1.x - 3.x (PC, Mac, Linux).


Creative Commons License
Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA
Sibrina Collins / College of Arts and Sciences at Lawrence Technological University

I love this! I used t to teach symmetry in Fall 2009, and plan to do this again in Fall 2010.

Sibrina Collins, PhD College of Wooster

Wed, 07/28/2010 - 23:47 Permalink
Maggie Geselbracht / Reed College

I agree!  This is fantastic Dean!  I used it in both of my inorganic courses.  It is a great way to introduce new students to improper rotations, in particular.  And even my Advanced students found it very helpful for honing their skills at assigning point groups.

At the suggestion of Adam Johnson (Harvey Mudd), I put the following question on the first problem set for my Advanced Inorganic course to force them to spend some time with these tools:

1. Prof. Dean Johnston at Otterbein College has created a great set of online tools for visualizing molecular symmetry and assigning point groups.  I have posted links to these on the Moodle under Block 4.  The Symmetry Challenge tests your ability to assign point groups using an interactive flow chart.  Your mission is to complete the Symmetry Challenge for at least 5 “challenging” inorganic molecules.  What I mean by “challenging” is something beyond BH3, ferrocene and Cr(CO)6, and of course, allene, methane, and cubane are not inorganic molecules.  Prove that you took the challenge by taking screenshots of the final “correct” screen for the 5 molecules you chose and submit these with your problem set. 

The students sure chose some interesting molecules to look at!

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 18:32 Permalink
Craig C. McLauchlan / Illinois State University
I used to just use Dean's materials to supplement my teaching on this, but with web access in my classroom now, I have taught symmetry by alt-tabbing between the web resources and any powerpoint note I may want to show.  I also have the students with molymod model kits in hand, but it is hard to beat an animation to "see" some symmetry elements!  Awesome resource!
Tue, 04/19/2011 - 20:13 Permalink
Nancy Williams / Scripps College, Pitzer College, Claremont McKenna College
Marion, your link seems to have been possessed by the Internet Gremlins (TM). Is the URL correct?
Mon, 07/04/2011 - 20:01 Permalink
Carrie Read Spray / Eastern Nazarene College

This is great!  I'm excited to show this to my students next time I teach inorganic.  

Wed, 06/26/2013 - 08:10 Permalink
Sheri Lense / University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

I also find this to be a great resource.  I used it last year and am currently using it this year to teach symmetry and point groups.  I have had a few students who commented that they had difficulty visualizing improper rotation operations until seeing the tutorial at Symmetry @ Otterbein. This year, I also did the challenge as part of an in-class group activity using some of the more challenging coordination complexes.

Sat, 09/20/2014 - 17:52 Permalink
Arpita Saha / Georgia Southern University

I simply love it and I'm going to use it in my Advanced Inorganic class this semester. This a great resource to introduce symmetry for more complicated coordination complexes. I particularly like the interactive challenge part where students can assess their understanding of symmetry as well. Thank you for posting.

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 17:47 Permalink
Kari Young / Centre College

I used this coupled with Lori Watson's Symmetry Scavenger Hunt as a 3-hour lab period devoted to symmetry.  My 13 students are mostly seniors, mostly have taken quantum.

Students worked individually given the following instructions:

Access the Symmetry@Otterbein webtool at  Click on the “Challenge” tab or link to “The Symmetry Challenge.”

Choose ten (10) molecules using the following criteria and determine their respective point groups.  For your post-lab report, submit a screenshot of your final “correct” screen that includes the molecule and point group.  Organize these screen shots neatly and submit electronically.


  • No more than two molecules can have the same point group.  In other words, at least five different point groups must be represented in your collection of ten molecules.
  • Eight molecules must be inorganic.
  • Eight molecules must have more than four atoms.
  • One molecule must contain both a transition metal and a carbon atom

Students could have done this as a problem set, but we found it useful to be together so that I could help and to have a designated time when everyone had to work on this.  One of my students said "thank you for making me do this" as he would not have been as careful on his own time.

We had discussed the meaning of "inorganic" on the first day of class, so students got to apply their preferred definition here.

I got the same comments that others list that Symmetry@Otterbein is helpful for visualizing improper rotations and reflection planes.

I refer students to the tutorial and gallery modules for extra help.

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 12:32 Permalink
Dean Johnston / Otterbein University

If you're interested in the latest "cutting-edge" version, check out the following:

It is still a work in progress, but has a lot of new features, such as:

  • symmetry elements / operations are grouped into their respective classes
  • buttons are provided to orient the molecule with respect to specific elements
  • example molecules can be sorted by point group, molecule type or alphabetically
  • the Symmetry Challenge allows incorrect answers (but gives the correct answer at the end)
  • the Symmetry Challenge will demonstrate how certain elements are NOT present
  • the pages and controls are more suited and responsive to mobile devices
  • linear molecules and point groups are included

Feedback is always appreciated!

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 16:18 Permalink
Sarah K. St. Angelo / Dickinson College

This resource has helped my students "see" symmetry so much more easily. I actually demonstrated how to engage with this resource the last time I was evaluated by a colleague, and she commented in my evaluation memo that she had never been able to see symmetry elements when she'd taken inorganic and that this resource would have helped her so much as a student. Thank you so much for this amazing resource.

Thu, 06/22/2023 - 11:14 Permalink