The Chemical Reactivity Worksheet is an executable program that allows determination of likelihood and extent of reactivity between pairs of chemicals (or classes of chemicals) in a mixture defined by the user. It would be of interest to anyone working with chemicals of virtually any type on a regular basis, particularly chemicals that are volatile or in other ways unstable. It includes a comprehensive database of chemicals and their properties. The database can be searched by chemical name or by CAS number. It generates tabular reports summarizing the interactions between the pairs of chemicals. Both the chemical property information and the interaction tables can be saved as text files which are then easily imported into other software to generate reports.
Type of Material:
As a resource for projects in courses in plant safety or plant design, or in chemical laboratory courses or laboratory safety courses. For example, one might ask the students to assess the potential hazards of a mixture involved in a documented incident,
and then describe the actual incident to them and let them compare their assessment to what actually happened.
IBM-compatible computer with Windows 95 or later, or Macintosh-compatible computer, according to the authors. These reviewers tested it with IBM compatibles running Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Using the chemical reactivity worksheet, a student should be able to identify and discuss safety and environmental hazards that might result from the accidental or intentional mixing of particular chemicals. Note that this is not structured as an instructional module. Rather, it is a tool available to the engineer, chemist, biologist, etc.; much as a calculator or spreadsheet is a tool.
Target Student Population:
Anyone, students or otherwise, who works with and/or wishes to learn about the likelihood and extent of reactivity between or among groups of chemicals. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, or practitioners in chemical engineering, chemistry, biology, or environmental health and safety. Students might use this module in laboratory or safety courses. Practitioners might use it in a variety of settings.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
General chemistry, for familiarity with naming conventions and classes of chemicals. Basic computer literacy for operation of a Windows-based program.
Validity: The database of chemicals appears to be enormous, which should make this useful in a wide range of situations. Includes excellent information about individual chemicals: appearance, density, flash point, solubility, common concerns for safe handling and reactivity. Comprehensive glossary with understandable definitions. Generally, a comprehensive and accurate resource to allow users to assess the pairwise compatibility of individual chemicals or classes of chemicals (ethers, sulfides, etc.).
Significance: High. This is the type of safety and environmental hazard information that is important to students, but is difficult to teach as anything other than a huge memorization exercise. Showing students this resource and requiring its use in a project or two should encourage them to consider reactivity hazards in designs.
Validity: Because this tool only considers pairwise, direct reactions, some hazards may be missed. The software does make this point and cautions against it.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
This looks like a valuable tool to allow students to practice a first-pass evaluation of safety and environmental hazards due to reactivity without getting so bogged down in the literature that they miss the point. It is not structured to teach chemical reactivity by itself. However, students can learn about chemical reactivity through its use.
Not a concern exactly, just a note that this is not a substitute for a good chemical safety course or for a comprehensive chemistry education.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Interface is intuitive and easy to use, if a little cramped-feeling. Glossary valuable and a nice touch. Worksheet does not take up entire computer screen,
which allows you to view it while you also view a report or other document.
The algorithm that searches for chemicals is frustrating. Possible matches are listed in some non-intuitive order, rather than in the order of base chemical followed by derivatives, which would be preferred. For example, a search for toluene results in 78 listings, simple toluene not being the first. A search for "benzene" brings up 150 matches. But benzene itself, which should be FIRST on the list both because it's the search term and because it's the parent compound of a very large family, is 54th, and one has to tediously scroll through the first 53 to get to it. The CAS number is the only way to go directly to a particular chemical, which will be particularly frustrating to students.
Explanatory text is difficult to read because using the scroll arrows causes the text to scroll too quickly. Problem seems to be pervasive, from opening screen throughout software. Also, the cursor looks like a pointing hand all the time,
regardless of whether one is actually over a functional button or control, which can be confusing.
The program window cannot be maximized to fill the screen. The "maximize" button in the upper right is live, but clicking it doesn't do anything.
Users cannot select, copy, and paste text, which may be frustrating to students, but the program will save information to a text file that can then be copied.
The need to install an executable file may cause difficulty in some institutional computer labs.
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