Chemical & Engineering News

May 12, 1997

Copyright © 1997 by the American Chemical Society

Spotlight swings to education

"The time is right," says Janet E. Nelson, director of educational projects at Irvine, Calif.-based Wavefunction, the developer of the computational chemistry software package Spartan. She is referring to the use of molecular modeling in the classroom.

Nelson's positions itself is an indication that molecular modeling may be moving to a higher level in the consciousness of both educators and software manufacturers. It was created only last fall. Nelson, a former academic, was on hand at the American Chemical Society exposition in San Francisco at a booth devoted entirely to molecular modeling in education.

The booth was a joint project of computer manufacturer IBM and Wavefunction. Staffed almost entirely by faculty members from various colleges and universities, it was set up to illustrate the number of ways that modeling can be used in the classroom.

Why now? Nelson explains what is making it the right time: "I think faculty members are ready for this. I think the computer technology is such that there's affordable hardware that is easily accessible by all students. The types of programs that used to need entire mainframe computers to run can now run on desktop or laptop computers that the students can buy themselves. And their colleges can certainly afford to build molecular modeling laboratories."

Warren J. Hehre, president and chief executive officer of Wavefunction, has long been a strong advocate of molecular modeling's use in education. He senses a changing paradigm that is moving molecular modeling out of the expert-user category and toward the research chemist. Wavefunction, he notes, has been giving courses in undergraduate institutions throughout the country to "sellout" audiences. "Clearly," he says, "modeling in education is becoming very, very relevant and fashionable."

In a related effort, MDL Information Systems, San Leandro, Calif., a developer of chemical information management software, had a booth in San Francisco devoted solely to the company's MDL Academic Package. The package is a suite of software tools and chemical databases selected by MDL to meet the scientific information management needs of professors and students affordably.