School may well be finishing for the year, but if there’s a scientist in the house, an app could let them mix and match chemicals and elements without the risk of blowing anything up.
Back when this journo was in high school, there was a big hullabaloo over the idea of dissecting a frog.
“What does this really teach at the expense of an innocent frog?” he could recall someone saying, before pointing out that a software application could do the same thing, albeit with less realistic graphics.
It was a valid point, though politics aside, dissecting an animal can teach kids about biology in ways that won’t necessarily get through with a piece of software, but it does raise an interesting point.
Specifically, can digital representations beat their physical counterparts in education?
The iOS app “Beaker” plays on this idea with a virtual chem-lab, allowing anyone to play scientist for the day and introduce liquids, gases, and other elements into a beaker that responds to how you hold it, when elements are mixed, and if you set fire to them.
Think of it as your very own chemistry set without needing to buy elements that could harm you, a bunsen burner that can set fire to things, or the prospect that you might accidentally do something that gets the local fire department involved.
The app offers clean design and some of the neat physicals you might expect one based on liquids and gases to offer, and Beaker’s developers even let you work in science speak with direct element and combination names, or you can press the “i” key to show what these names say in plain English.
Oh, and your finger can even light a match on screen to let you hold a flame to these elements to see what they would do if you put them on fire.
They might even explode, though it’s all on-screen, so worry not.
All up, it’s a fun little education tool, but what it does need is a set of demo elements for you to mix up.
The app’s listing does suggest a few, such as mixing K (Potassium) and H2O (water) to make fire, shaking a combination of chemicals (silver nitrate’s AgNO3, sodium chloride’s NaCl, and water’s H2O) to make rain or precipitation, and igniting two elements of hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2) to make an explosion, but you have to get these from the listing itself.
Otherwise you can search online for chemical recipes, but even these aren’t easy to find, so you might want to consult a school book or, heaven forbid, a teacher.
It would be super handy if Beaker included some of these as starters, basically demos, so you could see what you should do.
There is a question mark for you to press, though, and this will inform you of some of the gestures Beaker can do, such as sliding your finger from right to left along the bottom for the burner to start up, or doing the same up top close the beaker and keep your liquids contained.
If you have two iOS devices in the same spot, Beaker provides a feature called “AirMix” that allows you to add the mixture of one Beaker app to another simply by pouring it in. Or that’s the theory, anyway, because with an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6S in the same location, we couldn’t get it going, but if you can, more power to you.
We’re not sure if everyone will appreciate the idea behind Beaker, either, but in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, this could offer those would-be scientists a little more breathing room, as well as that of their parents, too.
Beaker is available now for iPhone and iPad for $4.49