Our Computational Chemistry Specialist Mike O’Connor shares how Nano Simbox is currently being used in research to better understand our invisible world
“The Nano Simbox is a powerful platform that can not only be used for secondary and higher education but also for developing new understandings of the molecular world through research applications. At the University of Bristol, we are currently exploring using the platform for a wide variety of applications including the study of chemical reactions, drug discovery and understanding fundamental biological processes such as protein folding. Being able to reach into and interact with the molecular world is a much novel experience for research scientists as it is for students, and we are using the intuitive experience to improve our understanding of how molecules behave. The discoveries and improvements we make to Nano Simbox while exploring these research domains will filter back to the educational platform and be available for educators to connect their syllabus to the cutting edge of research.
It’s an important area of the development of Nano Simbox as a teaching tool.
The biggest challenges are of a technical nature relating to how simulations work. What is the limit to the size of molecular system that we can study with our simulations, and the accuracy of the physical behavior we observe? What does it mean to interact with a simulation, and how do we perform analysis on the results? These questions can only be answered by performing research with the methods we have and finding out where the limitations lie.
I believe the biggest challenge in science education is in transforming science education from the teaching of facts and figures into the more fundamental concepts of critical thinking and the scientific method, and how to apply them. In the information age, one of the most important skills to develop is the ability to filter the deluge of information we are exposed to and critically evaluate it. These skills enable one to become an agile, critical and creative thinker that can solve problems.
Science education is best placed to teach these skills, and by doing so can make scientific thinking relevant to students who are not interested in pursuing an scientific career. This can be achieved by putting some focus into teaching how science works, how researchers come to the conclusions that become the facts in the textbooks, and how the scientific method is a self-correcting process that over time sifts the false from the truth. How do we know the earth is not flat, that it’s 6.3 billion years old and that humans and chimpanzees evolved from the same common ancestor? These questions can provide historical context on the development of science, are real examples of misinformation in the modern media, and serve as mental training exercises for a critical mind.
The Nano Simbox also serves as an example of teaching science in this form, as a sandbox for discovering the principles of how chemistry and physics works, rather than just providing facts and equations describing how molecules behave.”
Find out more about how Nano Simbox is being implemented in education and research: