Saturday, September 11, 2010

iPad: even 3-D molecules that can be viewed from any angle

I recently came across this report on, a new company aimed at bringing interactive textbooks to the iPad.  Interactive molecular models was mentioned two times and clearly left an impression on the author (italics are mine):

"Inkling’s software turns textbooks into interactive content, with video, hyperlinks between text and images, notes that can be shared between students and teachers, and even 3-D molecules that can be viewed from any angle."

"MacInnis – who worked at Apple for eight years, including a stint in the company’s educational division — says that the iPad is the perfect device for the kind of interactivity that Inkling provides because it has the ability to produce high-end graphics, such as the 3-D spinning molecule that is a feature of the company’s biology textbook."

This feature is also shown in inklings promotion video, excerpt below:
Update: MacInChemBlog keeps a list of science related iPhone/iPad apps.


Troels Linnet said...

Hi Jan.

This really looks like studying will become a mind blowing experience.
Did you ever succeed with the program to make spinning molecules in .pdf articles?

Jan said...

Hi Troels,

yes, I think there is some exciting possibilities for teaching science.

I decided the interactive pdf files are still too impractical:
1. Too cumbersome to make without expensive software
2. Files are way too big
3. The interactive features do not seem to work in portable devices like iPads.

I think the way forward is to make html (or some html-like format like epub) look like pdf, rather than the other way around.

There doesn't seem to be an easy way of doing this yet, and I haven't found time to really pursue it further. Right now I simple produce pdf files with lots of live links to simulations and screencasts.

Henry Rzepa said...

I too find this very exciting. But what would really make a difference is to also include some way of annotating eg a text book with chemical structures. I suggested to the company that they investigate e.g. the neat little app called ChemJuice. The way I would expect students to use a book on chemistry presented in this way is to sprinkle it with structures and mechanisms. In this latter regard, it is a shame that ChemJuice does not support "curly arrows".

By the way, I did convert three of my lecture courses to eBook form, but of course since the iPad does not support Java, its not possible to include eg Jmol in such versions.

Jan said...

Right, it is the interactiveness that is most exciting about e-text books. The inkling people appear to have taken that to heart to some extent, and it will be very interesting to see how far they go with this, when their first chemistry book comes out.

The lack of Java in the iPad is a real blow to interactive 3D molecular models. I would very much like to know how the inkling people dealt with it in the biology text.

Lecture courses in eBook form sounds very interesting. Are they available on-line?

Henry Rzepa said...

The Inkling people embed 3D models using the Molecules app. This in turn is a re-working of the original Roger Sayle Rasmol codes, which were open source, into Objective C. Presumably, they should really release the source code for Molecules into the community (perhaps they have?).

The eBook form can be found here, and the source that was used to generate them here. This latter uses Jmol.

Jan said...

Excellent! Thanks very much.