5 Engaging Ways to Teach Energy Surfaces and Spontaneous Reactions Without Lecturing

Anjaney Kothari

The concepts of enthalpy, entropy, and Gibbs free energy are integral to the study of thermodynamics. However, many beginners find it difficult to grapple with these concepts in the classroom. Plotting and interpreting energy surfaces comprise a helpful technique to understand reaction energetics. But the three-dimensional nature of these energy surfaces often makes them difficult to visualize in the conventional classroom setting.

Educators can use a variety of innovative methods to make these thermodynamics concepts easier to grasp for their students. Here, we list five engaging ways to teach about energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions to help students learn.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Interactive models offer students an opportunity to creatively approach a subject in a manner independent of conventional classroom teachings. This independence-oriented approach to learning can aid students in choosing their own pace when tackling intellectually tough topics. Thermodynamics, which combines some challenging concepts in physics and chemistry, is one such topic. Educators should consider using interactive models to teach thermodynamics principles and techniques like energy surfaces or spontaneous reactions.

For example, in Labster’s energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions simulation, students interact with virtual energy surfaces to understand concepts like:

·       Enthalpy of combustion and enthalpy of formation,

·       Hess’s law and its application in calculating enthalpy change, and

·       Spontaneous reactions, whether exothermic or endothermic.

Hess' Law of energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions in a virtual lab.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Lecturing, while necessary, can often become a monotonous and boring method of teaching. This is especially true when teaching complicated subjects like energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions. Class activities and games can prove to be effective diversions from conventional teaching.

Here is an example. You can conduct a timed competition where students must identify the most energy-efficient chemical reaction out of a long list. As students race against time to win, they will get better at energetics calculations and thermodynamics analyses.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

Technologies like simulation and holographic animation are akin to a pop-up book. They are able to generate awe and wonder while empowering the users with knowledge in an interactive way.

Take Labster’s energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions simulation, for example. Our simulation presents students with 3D holographic energy surfaces which they can use to understand enthalpy calculations. To learn the concept better, the students also visualize, through simulation, the combustion of propane on the holographic energy surface. Thus, animation and simulation allow students to readily interact with the subject matter, both mentally and visually.

Spontaneous reactions graph energy surfaces in a virtual lab.
Discover Labster's energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

More often than not, the tougher the study topic, the lower the students’ motivation to study it. What can you, as educators, do to keep your students’ motivation level high? One way is to spend some time discussing the career opportunities that a topic of study can create or support.

For example, while teaching energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions, tell your students how biophysical chemists use energy surfaces to predict the behavior of biomolecules under a given set of conditions. Tell them how chemical engineers working on energy storage devices must use energy surfaces to improve their products. Discuss how environmental scientists studying air pollution benefit from a knowledge of spontaneous reactions when trying to reduce harmful emissions.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Some topics of study tend to be very distant from students’ everyday lives. It is up to educators to shorten the distance between classroom knowledge and real-world scenarios. The first step towards this is to connect your study topic to its real-world applications.

For example, talk to your students about how learning about energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions is useful in the pharmaceuticals, materials, and energy production sectors. Discuss how catalytic converters and emission control devices would not be possible without an understanding of crucial energetics concepts. Talk about how designing (and predicting the outcome of) enzymatic reactions requires thorough knowledge of reaction energetics.

Final thoughts

Energy surfaces and spontaneous reactions are crucial but complex subtopics in the larger area of thermodynamics. It is important that educators look for effective methods to teach these subtopics to their students, and the creative methods we have discussed here can be of great help.

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