Reifying Reactions – developing a novel tactile interactive synthetic chemistry visualisation tool

Project Details


University of Brighton researchers will design, evaluate, build and test an interactive synthetic chemistry display system, suitable for all learners regardless of visual acuity, using 3D printing technology.

Professor Ostler and Professor Patel have termed this “reification” of modern electronic chemical drawing package capabilities, rendering the visual language of chemistry accessible by giving it physical shape on flat display surfaces.

The project has five phases, delivered over the course of one academic year.

1) Prototype design (August-November): Sample components of the prototype kit will be designed and manufactured. Considerations during this phase will be to generate example components for initial evaluation. Variables will include: material properties (ruggedness, flexibility where needed, magnetic attachments), aesthetics (tactility, inclusion and form of braille motifs, colour, size), component variety and connectivity (atoms, bonds, charges, arrows). The project team will evaluate early test prints for basic functionality during development.

2) Prototype evaluation (October-December): Standardised user evaluation methods will be used to optimise and finalise design. University of Brighton students will be asked to handle and evaluate the components. We aim to recruit sufficient evaluators with visual impairments to get reflective feedback on the design usability aspects. We do not expect that all of these evaluators will necessarily have a chemical background due to the current low participation of students with visual impairments in chemistry. Simulation spectacles also be used during our Brighton students’ evaluation to gauge psychological responses to the tactile and handling usability of the kit components.

3) Exemplar kit manufacture (December- February): Several “complete” kits will be manufactured for pedagogic testing. It is expected that these will contain; a range of atom types (C, N, O, P, S, X, Customisable) bond types (1, 2, 3, aromatic, wedge, dot, squiggly) with connectivity that allows representation of typical bond angles, arrows (flexible with customisable half and full heads), “modifiers” (lone pairs, radicals, charges with and without circles). Sufficient components will be included to display several examples of reasonably complex reactions including “curly arrow notation” of the mechanisms.

4) Pedagogic Testing (March-June): The kits will be evaluated for user experience and pedagogic effectiveness in taught sessions using a circus type design. A series of unfamiliar reactions will be presented using incomplete handout techniques currently in use for synthetic organic teaching at the University of Brighton. For each learning experience;
a.Control group: will receive electronic delivery of the handout and be encouraged to work in groups to annotate it.
b.Test group 1: will receive the same partially completed material displayed using our kits again completing the exercise in groups
c.Test group 2 will use the kits in the same way as test group 1, whilst wearing simulation spectacles.
The students will cycle though conditions a) to c), over three different learning experiences to control for attention and timing effects. They will be surveyed about their perceptions after each experience, and then tested to quantify the learning achieved.
If recruitment proves possible, a fourth group of visually impaired chemists will participate in pedagogic evaluation of the tool, and if current methods of accessibility provision allow it, comparison with the electronic delivery method. Where group 4 recruitment is insufficient to offer sufficient power for quantitative analysis, individual user experiences of using our toolkit will be evaluated qualitatively.

5) Dissemination (May-August): The outcomes of the project will be submitted for publication in well-regarded chemistry, design and education journals. The project team will also present and demonstrate use of the finalised toolkits at national events aimed at science learners and educators. The electronic template files will be made freely available for educational use via UoB, RSC and other electronic dissemination repositories. We will also investigate opportunities to manufacture ready-to-use kits for widespread distribution. We hope to use this project as a pilot for a larger grant application to extend our ideas to other aspects of chemical education and to other subjects that use visual language extensively, such as mathematics and computing.

Layman's description

Effective start/end date1/06/2031/12/21


  • Royal Society of Chemistry