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The Ball Game
The Ball Game is a resource, developed by HHMI Professor Irving Epstein, which is intended to give students an intuitive feel for the factors that affect the behavior of gases. The video game, played on a computer, simulates the behavior of molecules in a container filled with an ideal gas. Educators can use this game as a supplement to a first-year general chemistry course or as an optional assignment. During the game, students try to make a box containing gas molecules maintain a target size for as long as possible. By strategically activating each of four tools available, they can manipulate an outer, gas-filled box that contains the target box, add kinetic energy, or move molecules between boxes. Two tools allow users to make large-scale changes to the area of the boxes: The “resizer” tool, which can be used only once every 40 seconds, lets students shrink or expand the exterior box, while a “teleporter” tool, available once every 20 seconds, lets users move balls from inside the smaller box to outside, or vice versa. To make quick, temporary changes, students can also access two tools that recharge every five seconds (a "furnace" tool to increase heat and a "freezer" tool to drop the temperature of any balls within its radius). The game demonstrates that collisions of balls with each other and with the walls conserve energy and momentum. These walls have a mass that is large when compared with a single ball (or molecule) but not so large that they are not affected by the pressure generated by collisions of many molecules with the wall. Instructions for playing the game are on the game's website, and a link to a Word document containing several discussion questions, as well as a request for educator and student feedback, is also available on this page.
HHMI Professor: Irving Epstein, Ph.D.
Award Years: 2006
Summary: Irving Epstein, Ph.D., is an HHMI Professor at Brandeis University whose primary research interests lie in the area of nonlinear chemical dynamics. His HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- A rigorous precollege program for inner-city and other high school students who are underrepresented in science, with the goal of having them major in science at Brandeis University. Building on the achievements of the Posse Foundation in New York City in selecting and preparing inner-city youth to succeed in college, the Brandeis program includes eight months of weekly workshops for high school seniors selected for the program, a two-week on-campus summer “boot camp,” and regularly scheduled group and individual meetings with a science mentor once the students begin freshman year; and
- A redesign of the introductory general chemistry course to create the sense of excitement and wonder about natural phenomena that first brings students to science. The course will devote more class time to lecture demonstrations, films, historical and real-world examples, computer simulations, and games and will relate these activities to the laboratory component of the course. Materials developed, such as The Ball Game, are or will become available on the Web to other institutions interested in adopting this approach.