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Primary Education

Our Signature Molecularium® Project

In 2004, we released the first Molecularium show, “Riding Snowflakes”, to the digital dome theater (like a planetarium) community and it premiered at the Children's Museum of Science and Technology (CMOST, a valued partner throughout this project) in Troy, NY on February 4, 2005.

Instead of taking the audience on a ride into the stars, the Molecularium ship takes the audience on a ride into the world of atoms and molecules and shows them molecular dynamics simulations of atomic and molecular motion. This fantastical ship can shrink to molecular sizes and move as fast as the speed of light. The concept is similar to that of the movie Fantastic Voyage (1966) or the Magic School Bus, but we have merged advanced scientific computation with state-of-the-art digital animation technology providing scientifically correct molecular motion.

In this musical comedy, Oxy, Hydra, and Hydro manage to navigate the ship (with the help of a computer) through the clouds, where they travel in a snowflake, watch it melt, and feel and observe the wind blowing past them. The main messages of this show are aimed particularly at K-5 children and their parents, and include: (1) everything is made of atoms and molecules; (2) there are 3 states of matter; and (3) polymers are long long chains of mers. In addition to premiering at CMOST, “Riding Snowflakes” opened in 4 museums and 2 school districts in 2006 and 2007. In the past year James Madison University’s John C. Wells Planetarium, the Catawba Science Center, the Schreder Planetarium, the Kika Silva Planetarium, Thronateeska Heritage Center in Georgia, and the Children’s Museum in Hartford Connecticut have exibited the show.

In March of 2009, the Molecularium project (Schadler, Garde, Siegel) first released “Molecules to the MAX.” “Molecules to the MAX” is based in part on “Riding Snowflakes,” but is aimed at children in grades 4-8 and a broader family audience in general. In addition to the themes in the first show, the audience experiences the hydrologic water cycle as well as a journey through a cell. They also meet new characters such as Argon, with the personality of a “noble” gas, as well as Nitro and Nitra who bring some humor to the atmosphere. We have a contract with SK Films for distribution of the film. A 3-D version of the show has also been completed and is being released in Fall 2009. In addition, we are in discussion with PBS and our local public television station about producing pilot television shows based on “Molecules to the MAX.” PBS is considering a national production of the show pending the results from the local broadcast. Please visit www.moleculestothemax.com for the latest information.


Curriculum Development

Accompanying the IMAX show will be a new teacher's guide with hands-on activities for grades 4-8. This complements our current guide for grades K-4, and will be available as a pdf download from the new www.moleculestothemax.com web site. The first teacher's guide is being used broadly, based on feedback we receive from teachers. The new guide has two formats: an 8 page fold-out glossy guide that summarizes the lessons in the show (meant primarily for public audiences) and a full teacher's guide available as a pdf file from our web site.

 

Graduate Student Involvement in Molecular Scale Education

 

One exciting aspect of the upcoming 42-minute Molecularium IMAX movie, “Molecules to the MAX”, is the integration of complex molecular dynamics (MD) simulation data into this stateof- the-art Disney/Pixar like animation adventure. The atomic characters Oxy, Hydra, Hydro and others explore the molecular world using the Molecularium ship. There are two fundamental environments in the movie – one mostly inside a ship, where atomic characters speak, dance, and communicate with the audience; and the other outside the ship, which is the rest of the world that they explore. Our goal was to show many parts of that world in their full atomic glory. To this end, the Garde group (including several graduate students) performed MD simulations of those materials – polymers, paper, atmosphere (including water vapor, droplets, trace gases and elements), proteins and biological systems, etc., in full atomic detail. Some of these simulations included over a hundred thousand atoms and were run for comparable to more than a year of single processor computer time each. DNA packaged in chromatin structures was modeled at the atomic detail by Chang Shung Tung at Los Alamos laboratory, a world expert in the modeling of DNA conformations and loops. A typical simulation-animation integration process involved generation of significant amounts of trajectory data on a system of interest from MD simulation, processing of those data for animation software, rendering and reviewing of the visuals, providing feedback to simulations to repeat theloop until perfection. Tremendous computational power was required to get the job done – including the use of computer clusters at our NSEC, RPI's Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovation, and the Molecularium render farm dedicated primarily to conversion of numerical data into visual information.

The computational aspects of the project required collaboration between several computing groups as well as with numerous artists, animators, and computer graphics experts. This exercise was tremendously beneficial to undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral researchers as it provided them the unique opportunities to interact with, explain, and pass on excitement about the molecular world to a cross-section of people in the art/entertainment world they would otherwise never meet. The project also gave them tremendous satisfaction and pride about having participated in something special that will have lasting impact on the next generation.

For more information, including teacher's materials, please visit us on the web at www.molecularium.com and www.moleculestothemax.com. We are actively obtaining feedback from other educators to improve and expand these educational materials.


Bouchet Outreach & Achievement in Science and Technology

The BOAST program, in which we have been actively involved in prior years, was not active this year because the BOAST program is still seeking continued funding.