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Molecules for iOS review: This interactive science book brings learning to a whole new level

Jeff Merron | Jan. 9, 2015
When the iPad made its debut in April 2010, the first Touchpress app--The Elements: A Visual Exploration--was right there with it. The app was actually an ebook in disguise, with stunningly beautiful and interactive 3D illustrations, and it seemed almost perfectly designed to rebut skeptics (and there were many) who believed tablets could only be niche gadgets. Elements truly showed us the iPad's potential as a vessel for rich, interactive experiences that wouldn't be the same on the iPhone or even on your Mac.

When the iPad made its debut in April 2010, the first Touchpress app — The Elements: A Visual Exploration — was right there with it. The app was actually an ebook in disguise, with stunningly beautiful and interactive 3D illustrations, and it seemed almost perfectly designed to rebut skeptics (and there were many) who believed tablets could only be niche gadgets. Elements truly showed us the iPad's potential as a vessel for rich, interactive experiences that wouldn't be the same on the iPhone or even on your Mac.

Since then, Touchpress has released more than 20 similarly rich coffee-tablebook-esque apps on science, math, music, literature, geography, and history. The studio's latest release, Molecules, is a worthy successor to The Elements — and, like that pioneering app, it was written and developed by Theodore Gray.

It's easy to see why Apple hailed Molecules as one of the best iPad apps of 2014. On the app's first page, Gray says that Molecules is not in any way intended to be a textbook — he likens it, instead, to a chemistry set, an interactive way to explore how atoms combine to make molecules, and how (and why) even molecules with very similar structures differ. The app's opening image of an old-school chemistry set serves as an immediate invitation to explore — like practically every illustration in the app, you can rotate and view it in 3D.

You can read Molecules in a linear fashion if you'd like to, but it's much more fun to search for subjects that really appeal to you. The table of contents is presented as an eye-popping array of spinning images of everyday objects and substances accompanied by easy-to-read chapter titles. This layout makes the message clear: jump in wherever you want. The app explains each subject without unnecessary use of scientific jargon, so the "jump in" approach succeeds — you can browse topics and bounce around the app as you please. (A drawback, however, is that the app lacks even basic bookmarking, highlighting, and note taking capabilities — really stressing that this isn't a textbook.)

Random skimming of Molecules is enjoyable because the app connects our everyday chemistry experiences with appealing, simple explanations and descriptions. For example, a section on double sugars first discusses, in a moderately technical fashion, the bonding of monosaccharides to form a disaccharide. But the text very quickly segues into more digestible (har, har) information: "A lot of the work done by the sweetener industry boils down to transforming one of these sugars into another ... When you look at the ingredient list for a food product, remember that it doesn't much matter where the sugar comes from."

 

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