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A curious oxygen atom, a pair of restless hydrogen atoms, and a carbon atom looking for his raison d’etre will soon be traveling to darkened IMAX theaters around the world as ambassadors for Rensselaer.

A trio of Rensselaer professors has worked tirelessly over the past four years to bring the new IMAX film, titled Molecules to the MAX, to fruition. Part science experiment and part Hollywood magic, the movie follows the exploits of Oxy, Hydro, Hydra, Carbón, and other memorable characters as they navigate the secret molecular landscape of everyday items, from a penny to a stick of chewing gum.

The characters’ inquisitiveness about science is contagious. And while the story is engaging, the film’s stunning, immersive backgrounds are scientifically accurate and derived from cutting-edge, supercomputer-powered molecular modeling simulations.

Rarely has a movie been so carefully engineered to teach via osmosis. The movie’s primary objective is to entertain, yet it leaves the audience no choice but to learn a few things along the way. Maybe that’s what happens when a film is conceived by world-renowned scientific researchers and university professors who also serve as executive producers responsible for providing oversight and guidance.

“After watching the movie, parents, children, and teachers all rave about the storyline, the characters, the songs, and the animation—they just love it,” said Richard W. Siegel, the Robert W. Hunt Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer and director of the Institute’s nanotechnology center. “But we’ve also done before-and-after assessments that prove viewers coming out of the theater know a great deal more about atoms and molecules in the world around them than they did before they experienced the movie. They learned without even trying. That’s why we call it ‘stealth education.’”

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.