NOVA Elements, a free iPad app from PBS, provides an overview of the elements and the periodic table. It offers easy access to NOVA’s Hunting the Elements video, narrated by David Pogue, New York Times tech columnist and host of NOVA’s “Making Stuff” series, and it includes an interactive game that lets you build atoms and molecules. The app’s text is cursory, however, limited to brief descriptions of each chemical element.
From the app’s Home screen, you are presented with three choices: Explore the Interactive Periodic Table; Watch Hunting the Elements; and Play David Pogue’s Essential Elements. By clicking on any element in the Interactive Periodic Table, you call up a brief description of the element, and its abundance, discovery, and/or uses. You can also tweet a link to these descriptions, if you wish. You can also access a video clip about the element.
Along with each description is a Build button, which lets you construct representations of individual atoms for each element, for which you’re given its atomic number and atomic weight. You then add protons and electrons, the number of each of which will match the atomic number, and neutrons. The number of protons and neutrons will nearly equal the atomic weight. When you’ve completed the atom, you press Submit, and the app will let you know whether or not you’ve built it correctly.
When you click on “Watch Hunting the Elements” you hear David Pogue’s voice-over state “You can watch Hunting the Elements, anytime, anywhere.” That is an overstatement, as I couldn’t watch the show on the subway, for example, as it requires an Internet connection. But, assuming you are online, it’s an easy way to access the 2-hour PBS special that Pogue narrates. Hunting the Elements is split into 12 video “chapters,” each about 10 minutes long. This makes it more manageable than the full-length videos of the show accessible from the PBS Web site or on YouTube, and—unlike the iTunes or DVD versions that you can order through the app—it’s free.
In Hunting the Elements, Pogue explores individual elements, for example gold (visiting a gold mine), and oxygen (its role in fire and explosions, as observed in an explosives test range). He also investigates the periodic table as a whole, with the help of a scientist’s prop, an actual wooden table in which each element is represented in its proper position; what’s more, beneath each element’s plaque that identifies it is a container housing a sample of the element. The video discusses the elements essential for life, and the creation of elements in the hearts (and explosions) of stars.
David Pogue’s Essential Elements shows images of 5 different objects: a strand of DNA, a red shirt, a cup of coffee, some bananas, and a wrist watch. For each of these objects, you’re shown molecules that comprise it: for DNA, the four nucleic acids, cytosine, adenine, guanine, and thymine; for the shirt, cotton, nylon, and red dye; for the cup of coffee, caffeine, water, and PVC plastic; for bananas, fructose, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. You are then tasked with assembling these molecules’ component atoms (if you haven’t already done so with the Build function in the interactive periodic table), and then adding each element in turn to the ball-and-stick molecular model to complete the molecule. If you add the atoms in the wrong place, you’ll have to clear the model and redo it.
One quibble with this section is that it’s presented as overly David Pogue-centric, rather than focused on the elements themselves. In general, Pogue has a strong presence in the app, and it’s fitting as the narrator of Hunting the Elements that he often injects his personal impressions on being introduced to some new phenomenon. But in David Pogue’s Essential Elements, his picture is in the center, between the five objects you are to assemble. If you press the instructions tab, you are told “The objective of this game is to construct elements and molecules that make up some of the objects David uses every day,” rather than noting that they’re five objects important to many people’s lives. That said, there’s no reason this should detract from the game, and from learning about atomic and molecular structure.
NOVA Elements is a good iPad app for learning about the elements. It’s helpful to watch the engaging and at times amusing NOVA video Hunting the Elements, which is accessible through the app, as there is no textual description of the periodic chart that comprises the Interactive Periodic Table section. The text that accompanies each element in the Interactive Periodic Table is cursory, and while some elements are described in the video, many are not.
The David Pogue’s Essential Elements section presents an interactive and experiential game for assembling atoms, when you’re given only their atomic weight and number, and then taking the virtual atoms you’ve constructed and assembling them into (mostly organic) molecules.
NOVA Elements lacks the detailed textual descriptions of individual elements and the periodic table of the Editors’ Choice iPad App, The Elements: A 3D Exploration, as well as that app’s stunning graphics. But NOVA Elements is free, its Hunting the Elements video, (which is accessible elsewhere) is well worth watching, and the interactive Essential Elements game lets you examine atoms and molecules experientially (by constructing them). Nova Elements is a worthy (and fun) educational iPad app.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc