From the laboratory to the classroom: Mobile apps create new niche in education for ChemDraw

Our 2013 User Group Meeting, to be held October 1-2 in Waltham, Mass., will not only highlight the growth of scientific informatics to support end-to-end laboratory solutions, but will share a special story of how a mobile chemical drawing application has changed the way chemistry educators are approaching classroom learning.

When PerkinElmer Informatics innovators first started discussing the idea of bringing the popular ChemDraw® software program to a mobile application, the app was designed with the professional scientist in mind. Since ChemDraw’s creation in 1986, the program has been adopted by chemists across the board as the go-to software program for drawing chemical structures, writing patents, and publishing papers.

But with the 2013 launch of ChemDraw for iPad® and the related program Chem3D® for iPad, PerkinElmer Informatics has found itself catering to a new niche of customers in education.

Traditionally, chemistry students did not come into contact with ChemDraw until the end of their undergraduate careers or during graduate school, when the program was used to help publish academic papers. The mobile application of ChemDraw has now transformed the program into a learning tool through the invention of a novel sharing function, Flick-To-Share™, that was divined and designed by the Informatics mobile development team.

Hans Keil, business leader for Informatics’ desktop and mobile applications, explains in a recent interview with Boston “Tech Talk” radio show host Craig Peterson that the iPad applications have suddenly launched Informatics in a new direction that our team has not previously played a big role in.

“Now, all of a sudden, it could be a first-year college chemistry classroom where students are using this program,” Hans said. The cost of the ChemDraw app is $9.99, which is much more affordable than the desktop version. “It is really distilled down to the basics around chemical structure drawing to be able to render chemical structures in a very basic way, in a very quick way, in a very intuitive way.”

Having partnered with McGraw-Hill education, Informatics was able to see ChemDraw for iPad in action through two pilot programs held during summer 2013 chemistry classes at Saint Louis University and University of Illinois-Springfield.

The Flick-To-Share capability allowed organic chemistry students to instantaneously share drawings with their professors, who could then make any necessary corrections and send it right back to their students. “It turned out to be a real positive thing, in terms of engagement levels. That was the big take-away from those two pilots,” Hans said.

Flick-To-Share, which uses a novel, patent-pending simple finger swipe to send and share drawings with colleagues instantly, was created when Informatics’ head of R&D wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just flick that molecule across the room to somebody else?”

“Our head of R&D then said, ‘Yes, we can make that happen’. He worked with the mobile development team,” Hans said. “In very short order, the team came up with a prototype where we were ‘flicking’ drawings to each other.”

“I just think it’s a testament to what can happen when you rethink a product that’s been locked in the desktop world for so many years,” Hans said. “A tablet really helps you unlock potential and think about new directions in which you can move.”

To meet Hans and hear more about how he envisions chemistry apps will evolve science classrooms, sign up to attend our October 1-2, 2013 User Group Meeting in Waltham, Mass.

Listen to Hans’ full interview on “Tech Talk” in this YouTube video.