The Molecules

Current Installations

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The molecular aspects of nature are too often viewed as inaccessible and uninteresting to the general public. While the public can appreciate the beauty of a flower or a swan, the molecular basis of these organisms goes unnoticed. While scientists appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of both small and macromolecules, this is rarely communicated to the public. Consequently, the public sees molecular science as something removed from their everyday life. Even worse, much of the public associates 'chemicals' with toxins and pollution.

With support from the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation and the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and its supporters and alumni, this project has developed a system for displaying large-scale interactive molecules in prominent public spaces. The first such system was installed in the new Integrated Sciences Building on campus (see Current Installations for others). The aim is to capture the public's attention and to prod individuals to explore personally a vast array of molecular structures in a human-size "molecular playground," as shown in the movie below.

The presentations are targeted primarily to the nonscientist, focusing on the symmetry and beauty of molecules, large and small. Natural small molecule cofactors or life saving drugs are placed into larger ribbon view protein structures, for example, to illustrate their functional synergy. Authors strive for art-like presentations, while remaining true to the underlying chemistry. Animation, even in the absence of user interaction, is key. Help is available for those interested in authoring new presentations.

If you can't visit one of the installations (or if you have, but want to learn more), please browse through the list of molecules on the navigational bar and click on one.

Would you like to install your own Molecular Playground? Visit our installation instructions page and then contact us through the links to the left.



2013, May - Playground featured at Blair High School open house (Pasadena, CA)
2013, February - Eight sites up and running!
2012, January - Four sites up and running, two more being planned!
2011, November - Read a four page article about us in the UMass Amherst Magazine
2011, July - read about how the Molecular Playground works
2011, July - installation instructions have been updated
2011, June - a new installation is in progress at the Okinowa Institute of Technology, Japan
2011, May - we're expanding! Installations are in progress at the Springfield Science Museum and at St. Olaf's College in Northfield, Minnesota. 2011 - see an "unconventional" user interface
2010, May 20: added content created by Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program (CBI) students!
2010, April 2: a preliminary set of installation instructions is being prepared.
2010, March 11: More molecules added! Site revised some.
2009, December 20: Instructions and short-cuts are provided for authoring modules to display new molecules in Molecular Playground.
2009, November 15: Added a zero-calorie fat, a zero-calorie sweetener (no web pages yet).
2009, October 8: Added the ribosome, after its structure won the Nobel Prize.
2009, September 27: Added green fluorescent protein, cellular retinoic acid-binding protein (CRABP) and acetophenone. (Only CRABP has a web page.)
2009, September 14: The Integrated Sciences Building is formally opened, with ceremonies that feature the Molecular Playground.
2009, September: Molecular Playground is installed and becomes operational in the Integrated Sciences Building. Inaugural modules feature Tamiflu (an anti-influenza drug), HIV protease inhibitor (an anti-HIV drug), and RNA polymerase (with web pages for all three).
2008, October: The latest version of Jmol (which displays the interactive molecules in Molecular Playground) is reviewed in Chemical & Engineering News (bottom of page).

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