Using augmented reality to bring chemistry to life

Using augmented reality to bring chemistry to life

RMIT academics have created a new app that brings chemistry out of textbooks and into the 3D world.

ARChem, designed by Professor Michelle Spencer and Professor Oliver Jones, was created to give chemistry students a fun and different way to engage with their classroom learning.

Spencer said students often struggled with relating the 2D representation of molecules with their 3D shape. 

“By using augmented reality, molecules can be placed wherever you are located and can be manipulated in different ways," she said.

The app is designed to work as a learning tool during or outside of class time, complementing existing teaching materials and elements of classroom learning, by reinforcing key topics covered in undergraduate chemistry courses. 

The main menu of the ARChem app with 6 options The app, designed by Michelle Spencer and Oliver Jones, aims to complement the studies of undergraduate chemistry students. Source: Google Play Store

Jones explained that students can use the app to select different parts of a molecule (called functional groups or stereocentres) and see how they are represented in 2D compared to 3D.

“Our hope is that this will make it easier for students to grasp the 3D structure of molecules which is essential to their properties and how they react,” he said.

The creation of the app was funded by an Australian Council for Deans of Science (ACDS) Learning & Teaching grant. 

Spencer said the process of creating the app was truly multi-disciplinary, with staff and students from STEM College, the STEM Centre for Digital Innovation and the College of Design and Social Context involved.  

“Importantly, we had a students centred design process right from the start, with students involved in every step of the way," she said. 

“This included students studying chemistry, as well as teams of computer programming students studying Bachelor of Computing Technologies and Masters of Animations, Games and Interactivity (MAGI).” 

The student-centred partnership model provided a valuable opportunity for the students involved to work on a product they could then use as evidence of their learning to prospective employers. 

“This model is something we developed when we created our first apps Chirality and Chirality-2,” Jones said.  

“It provides a win-win situation, where academics get a tool they can use in teaching and students learn to work in groups on a ‘real’ project with a tangible output.” 

Feedback on the app so far has been positive with students saying they’ve enjoyed playing with the 3D augmented reality aspect and being able to play wherever they are. 

Vision of the the app's gameplay with an image of a molecular structure on the ground with a diagram labelled 'Phenol' next to it. ARChem uses augmented reality to bring 2D models of molecules into the 3D world and aims to make it easier for students to grasp key topics in their chemistry coursework. Source: Google Play Store.

“Students are always using mobile phones to communicate, listen to music, etc. and many have long commutes to RMIT - why not spend the travel time learning instead?” Spencer said. 

“Being free and able to be played without internet, we’ve endeavoured to make the app as accessible as possible to provide students with flexibility and autonomy in their learning.” 

ARChem is available to download for free on the Apple and Google Play Stores. 


Story by: Sheridan van Gelderen

18 June 2024


18 June 2024


  • Science and technology
  • STEM
  • Education

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