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Build understanding in

Using the STELLA software has improved my teaching as


well as my students learning capabilities.
---Susan Schultz, Chemistry Teacher
Menlo Atherton High School

Chemistry

for Chemistry

Case Study
Barriers and Opportunities
Whether youre looking at chemical processes in the
lab, or teaching chemical processes in the classroom,
you and your students are engaged in the study of
inherently dynamic processes. While it is difficult
enough to accurately specify a mechanism for all but
the simplest of reactions, the difficulties compound as
one tries to analyze the time-paths of a particular
mechanism. Modeling is required to aid in both
tasks.
While modeling offers great potential, the benefits are
not without cost.
For example, most chemical
reactions can quickly become an analytic nightmare.
Seeing the time-paths of such reactions requires use
of numerical methods on a computer. However,
developing simulation models in a programming
language can be a tedious, time consuming affair. It
is hard to focus on concepts when seeking to
decipher arcane code and cryptic error messages.
Because students often do not have the required
analytical or programming skills, they typically cannot
partake in modeling activities. All too often, they
have little choice but to simply accept rate laws on
faith. Memorizing too often takes the place of truly
learning the concepts.
The STELLA software is designed to remove these
barriers to understanding.
With the STELLA
software its easy for you (or your students!) to
diagram the assumptions about a reaction
mechanism. As the relationships are detailed, you
will add rigor and clarity to your thinking. Then, you
can test your assumptions quickly and inexpensively
via simulation. The STELLA software provides you
with a powerful tool for testing theories, clarifying
concepts, and communicating ideas. It allows you to
put your energy to best use in the lab, or in the

The Setting: An Ivy League college campus


The Topic:
Physical chemistry
The Challenge:Teaching chemical kinetics
Background:
Faculty members in the chemistry
department faced a difficulty that confronts many who
teach chemistry in college and in high school: How to
enable students to actually do science. While faculty
members can easily lecture to students about simple
reaction mechanisms, many want their students to
develop
their
understanding
through
active
experimentation. Several faculty members have found
that the STELLA software is an ideal tool for the task.
In this instance, students were given a model building and
analysis assignment using the STELLA software. The
assignment directed students to (a) choose reaction
mechanisms more complicated than any of the analytically
solvable ones found in their test. (b) produce a working
model of the reaction, and (c) analyze the response of the
model to variations in rate constants and initial
concentrations. Serious students were encouraged to
choose a mechanism for an oscillating reaction. One
student chose the Lotka mechanism.
Step 1: Map. The first step that each student went
through was to represent the concentration of each
species in the reaction with a stock. An illustrative
diagram is shown below. Then, flows, converters, and
connectors were added to show the dependency
relationships that determined each step of the reaction.
Note the autocatalytic processes associated with rate1
and rate2 in the reaction.
Lorka Mechanism

classroom.

rate 1

k1

rate 3

rate 2

k2

k3

Step 2: Model. After the basic plumbing had


been laid out, the next task was to
incorporate assumptions about the rate laws
associated with each stage in the reaction.
In this case, adding equation logic to the
diagram was a straightforward task. The
students used algebra to define the rate law
for each stage of the reaction. The equation
for the first step in the reaction, for example,
is shown at right. Initial values were provided
for each concentration.
Step 3: Simulate.
After all of the
relationships had been defined, the model
was used in a systematic progression of
simulation tests. Several runs were made.
In each, the rate constant for the first step
was varied. As the graphs to the right show,
the
simulations
revealed
increasingly
complex behavior by the system as the rate
constant was increased.
Subsequent sensitivity tests showed how the
system could again stabilize as the rate
constant for the second step in the reaction
was increased.
Step 4: Celebrate! The teachers in the
chemistry department report that the
STELLA software has provided them with a
powerful tool for developing student
understanding of the dynamics of chemical
processes. STELLA models have become
an integral part of lecture-demonstrations
because they allow students to see the
mechanisms at work in a chemical reaction.
The use of the STELLA software continues
to grow in importance in homework, problem
sets, and project work. It gives students and
faculty alike an easy-to-use environment for
visualizing and rigorously testing theories of
chemical dynamic interactions.

1:
2:
3:

200.00

k1

k1=0.001
1:
2:
3:

100.00

Graph 1

k1=0.0005
1

k1=0.0001
2

1:
2:
3:

1
2

3
3

0.00
0.00

25.00

1
50.00
Time

1
75.00

3
100.00