A software tool for simulating practical chemistry
The field of 'active learning' is growing rapidly in many areas and high-quality software that allows the student to interact with a particular environment is now becoming commonplace. Chemistry is no exception and one area that has seen extensive development is the use of computer simulations of laboratory procedures used either as a preparation for laboratory work or to carry out a virtual investigation. In the former case, Nicholls (1999) describes a range of software providing pre-laboratory support for a range of firstyear undergraduate inorganic chemistry experiments. Using these computer programs, students work at their own rate on material presented through graphics, animations, simple calculations, tests and questions prior to carrying out the actual laboratory exercise. It is claimed that this approach'encourages students to evaluate critically procedures and results by ensuring that they think beforehand about the tasks they will be performing subsequently in the actual laboratory class. Garratt (1997) describes a different approach, predominantly in the areas of physical chemistry and biochemistry, giving students the opportunity to design 'virtual investigations' and to process and interpret the resulting data. For example, students are asked to choose a set of experimental parameters to allow the kinetics of a particular enzyme (randomly generated from 150,000 hypothetical examples) to be investigated.