Chemists in industry use computational approaches to help them find new solutions to the problems they face. A new program at the SUNY College at Oneonta allows even freshmen to learn to use computational chemistry software.
The software incorporates what is known about chemistry and physics into mathematical models to interpret data and make predictions, says Kelly Gallagher, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oneonta.
Compared to traditional laboratory and lecture formats, the computer software is more interactive, says Jacqueline Bennett, another assistant professor in the department.
Bennett and Gallagher, along with their colleague Trudy Thomas-Smith, have been awarded a $165,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to incorporate computational chemistry at every level of undergraduate education, from introductory courses for nonmajors to the independent research projects that upperclassmen undertake.
The software can be downloaded onto students’ own computers, making it very accessible. Students can use the program to visualize molecules in three dimensions and from any perspective, which helps them understand molecular interactions – or why two molecules don’t interact.
In entry level classes, Gallagher says, “It underscores the particulate mature of matter.” In addition, faculty can use the software to relate laboratory experiments with real-life events, such as melamine contamination of dog food and infant formula from China.
To become adept with all the software can do “takes a long time,” Bennett says. The goal is that chemistry majors will achieve a high level of sophistication with computational approaches to chemistry by the time they graduate.
SUNY sees an educated population as the foundation for economic growth in New York. Many graduates go on to work in environmental labs and pharmaceutical companies. With the education they receive at the SUNY College of Oneonta, they’ll be much better prepared for whatever career they choose.