Before the development and widespread use of computer-modeling software, textbook images of solid-state materials typically included only the structure’s smallest, repeating part-called the unit cell. To visualize the crystal-lattice structure of a solid-state material, students reading these textbooks had to learn how to construct a mental image of a unit cell stacked in three dimensions.
In contrast, PowderCell software allows the user to generate digital images showing the crystal-lattice structures of solid-state materials in three dimensions, which facilitates the students’ ability to visualize a three-dimensional crystal-lattice structure.
PowderCell also allows the user to investigate the lattice structure by changing the orientation to see it from a different crystallographic perspective, exchanging the component atoms, or altering the bond-lengths between each atom.
Making these changes and seeing the effects on a structure increases students’ abilities to form a mental image of each crystal-lattice structure from the unit cell.
In Chemistry 465, the instructor demonstrates PowderCell on a SMART Board. The touch-screen of the SMART Board allows him to manipulate the software with his hands, directly on the projected image. The students can readily see each step the instructor is taking to produce and alter an image of a specific solid-state structure. Furthermore, because students are simultaneously watching the instructor and working on their own tablet PCs loaded with PowderCell, they learn to use the software in class, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions.