The Chemistry of LifeIan Smissen
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Deakin University
The Chemistry of Life is a hybrid (Mac and Windows) CD-ROM covering the basic chemistry concepts required as background for an introductory biology course. It is a series of tutorials designed to be used either as a way of introducing the material to students with minimal background in chemistry or as revision for students with high school chemistry.
The program is easy to install and use with an extensive readme text file for those who need a bit of extra help. The interface is attractive with intuitive, menu-based navigation. Navigation is assisted by the ability to bookmark different locations and you can save your place when exiting the program.
The concepts are presented in a logical sequence beginning with basic atomic structure and progressing through to the structure and function of enzymes. A particularly nice feature is that the content can be organised according to chapters in a range of commonly used Addison Wesley Longman biology textbooks. The level of language is appropriate to beginning undergraduate students. Technical jargon is kept to a minimum with new terms being explained in context and there is a large glossary that can be accessed from anywhere in the program.
Topics are presented as narrated tutorials with over 500 interactive animations used to demonstrate concepts and quizzes are used to test each topic. I found the narration irritating after a while. The information is also presented as text and the narration interferes with, rather than adds to, reading the text. I prefer to explore the tutorial without the intrusion of the narrated voice, particularly when you back up to a previous section and the narration starts again. Fortunately, there is a feature that allows you to turn the narration on and off.
On the technical side, The Chemistry of Life runs on very basic machines: 486/50 PC or any 68040 Mac with a 2 x CD-ROM drive and a minimum of 8 Mb of RAM available. I tested the CD-ROM on fast and slow Macs and PCs. The faster the machine and CD-ROM drive, the faster the program will link from screen to screen but performance is otherwise unaffected. The screen size is 640 x 480 pixels, using 256 colours. The surrounding screen area blacks out if you are using a higher resolution monitor setting but on a large, high-resolution monitor, the presentations look a bit small and text can be difficult to read so change to 640 x 480 if possible. The program will not run over a network, each machine needs its own copy of the CD-ROM.
If you are looking for an easy-to-use, remediation program for biology students struggling with chemistry, The Chemistry of Life is worth a look.
UniServe Science News Volume 14 November 1999
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