Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Donald E. Elmore

Additional Advisor(s)

Mala L. Radhakrishnan


Molecular Dynamic (MD) simulations have the potential to become increasingly integrated into high school and college level introductory chemistry or biology courses during the coming years. Because chemistry is often challenging for students to conceptualize at the molecular or sub-molecular levels, it is often helpful to model systems of interest. Traditionally these models are 2D structures or stick-and-ball structures, which are static and do not provide insight on the dynamic nature of molecules in their environments. Therefore, we wanted to study the impact of introducing MD simulations to high-school students. Interested students at an urban public high school were provided the opportunity to participate in either an after-school research enrichment program or an in-class activity where students were provided tools to build MD simulations, visualize simulations using Visual Molecular Dynamics (VMD), or understand the foundational concepts of MD simulations. The curriculum integrated biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, and math concepts into the lessons. Pre- and post-surveys adapted from the Classroom Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) and the Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE) were administered to students in order to investigate the effect of the activities on students’ perception of conceptual learning, gains in scientific skills, and beliefs about science and the scientific process.

Results indicate that students felt they had a better understanding of what a career scientist does after each experience; however, in some aspects it appears that the experience may reinforce incorrect ideas of what scientists actually do. Additionally, participants in the research experience believed that they were better able to visualize molecular systems, while the students participating in the classroom experience felt as though they were able to integrate theory and practice. Therefore, it is not clear which experience was “better” because both demonstrated learning gains. I propose that a modified version, combining parts of both experiences, would be most beneficial for student learning.

Available for download on Sunday, November 26, 2023