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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA professor reinventing how to communicate organic chemistry with app

    Organic chemistry professor Jon Njardarson understands that presentation is everything. That’s why he is working to represent and share information about organic chemistry in new ways, with significant implications for changing the way the material is taught.

    Several of Njardarson’s projects are related to presenting chemical concepts in an efficient and appealing way. These projects include drug posters that are intended to help people view a lot of information very quickly. By looking at one of these posters, it is much easier to see patterns and engage with the material without being hindered by pages of text with complicated vocabulary.

    “I like art and architecture and all these other things,” said Njardarson, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry. “I was trying to merge that with science and find a way to make scientific content come across in a beautiful, but concise and compact, way”.

    With the same goal in mind, Njardarson wanted to create a way for people to access the content from journal publications in a better format. A typical publication in this field often loses a lot of content because the visual representations only show the composite of many steps instead of each individual step.

    “We created a new app and a website where we recreate the literature better than it was originally and so you can test yourself,” Njardarson said.

    This free website and mobile app is called Chemistry by Design and it was the first app created by the UA. As of today, 1,200 research papers from 1939 to 2015 have been read and recreated in the database, supported by the contributions of people from around the world.

    The site also includes a feature that allows you to test yourself using flashcards. Chemistry by Design is geared toward the research community, but Njardarson plans to create another similar app geared toward undergraduate organic chemistry students.

    Njardarson’s inspiration for creating free Internet resources came from an initial desire to make his outreach as fun and creative as his science by utilizing the possibilities offered by the Internet.

    “I am committed to only creating products that can reach millions and are not held back by borders,” Njardarson said.

    In terms of his teaching, Njardarson hopes to move away from expensive textbooks, which he feels try to force students to use a generic product, and instead create content with the rest of his department and supplement it with electronic tools and apps.

    Providing the necessary support for students without dictating specific instructions for how to learn is a key part of Njardarson’s overall teaching philosophy. After discussion sessions were eliminated last spring, he signed up 30 preceptors so that now he can provide 20 office hours per week.

    “I just created my own army to support the class and do it far better than we did the year before,” Njardarson said.

    According to a member of that preceptor army, students are using the support offered outside of lecture.

    “I think that students do take advantage of these opportunities,” said Julea Lipiz, a junior studying molecular and cellular biology and political science and a preceptor for the class. “I have had quite a few students at my office hours, and with more preceptors scheduled at each time, it is easier to answer questions and help more students simultaneously.”

    From posters to apps to office hours, Njardarson is working on creating better methods of teaching organic chemistry material and making that material widely accessible.

    “I don’t look at anything we are doing … [as] revolutionary, but I think people should enjoy incremental advances,” Njardarson said.

    Follow Genevieve Patterson on Twitter

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