The Path To Synthesis

"Chemistry makes the invisible apparent to our senses"

Charles Monroe,   ACS President,   1924

        Chemistry requires an understanding of molecular structure, knowledge of molecular reactivity, and the creativity to combine them in novel situations. A synthetic chemist must be able to translate a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional mental image. This three-dimensional image is then unwrapped and divided into key intermediates, each of which will be unwrapped and divided in turn.

        We cannot see with our eyes the molecules we study. Therefore, we bridge the gap between ordinary vision and visual imagination with models:   physical models which embody the metaphorical models.

        Fluency with visual conventions is developed simultaneously with fluent perception of the concepts expressed in the representation. There is a feedback loop between learning the shorthand notation and learning the larger concept represented by the shorthand. Research has shown that difficulties visualizing chemical concepts can impose a barrier to understanding. As such, we can increase the conceptual knowledge of chemistry students by giving them a good foundation in the visual language of chemistry.

        The Path to Synthesis is intended to build a bridge between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations in a real-world situation. This website follows the semi-synthesis of Taxol, showing the reaction mechanisms for each step. The conventional, "arrow-pushing" two-dimensional notation is animated and moves synchronously with a modern, "video-game" style three-dimensional representation. Each page also features explanatory text along with the video narration.

        This project was created by Matthew Radcliff, a science filmmaker and animator, in collaboration with Joseph Fox, Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Delaware.

        Funding for this project was provided by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences, and by the National Science Foundation.

What is Taxol? &rArr

© 2009 Matthew Radcliff and Dr. Joseph Fox
Created with funding provided by
the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences
and the National Science Foundation