Molecular models

Commercial sets of molecular models
Improvised models (German)
Computer models

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Molecular models are extremely useful in Organic Chemistry, because of the complex three-dimensional (3D) nature of organic chemicals. Students taking university-level organic chemistry are often required to have a set of molecular models. In an introductory course, we do not require that you get models, but we do encourage it. This page presents some options.

Models are also useful in Intro Chem or General Chem, when learning about shapes of covalent molecules (e.g., VSEPR theory). The simplest of models is generally adequate for that purpose.

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Commercial sets of molecular models

Common sets intended for organic chemistry students have list prices in the range of about $35-$50.

Visit any college bookstore, and see what they have for their organic chemistry course. Whatever it is, it is probably fine.

You can also order models online. See my Buying books page for information about buying things online. I would encourage you to explore using the price comparison services that are shown there. "Used" sets of models may be available, at a substantial discount.

Here are some of the more common sets. They are of the ball-and-stick type, and are plastic.

The Indigo Molymod Student Molecular Model Set #62053. (Molymod is sometimes used as a generic term for this type of plastic ball-and-stick model.)

The Prentice Hall (or Allyn and Bacon) Molecular Model Set for Organic Chemistry. ISBN 0-205-08136-3.

The Molecular Structure Model, Set C for Organic Chemistry, from VHPS or W H Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-3589-X.

You might also be able to borrow some models from work, or from someone you know who has taken organic chemistry.

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Improvised models

You can improvise models, by using commonly available materials such as grapes, marshmallows, or packing peanuts. You can use toothpicks or pipe cleaner segments for bonding. These may be limited to smaller molecules, but arguably those are really the most important, especially at the start. If you do not have other models, I strongly encourage you to improvise some models for simple compounds, simply to get a sense of the basic 3D shape.

Making models from balloons: Also available in German.

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Computer models

Computer programs, such as the free program RasMol, offer much of the benefit of models. They are particularly helpful with large molecules. Some would argue that seeing computer models cannot fully substitute for making and handling physical models, but that is a matter of taste.

My page Writing, drawing and viewing chemical formulas leads you to more information about RasMol, including how to get it, how to get started using it, and how to get structure files for organic and biochemicals. It also leads you to information about programs that let you make your own computer models.

Drawing structures and converting them to 3D models yourself is fun, even if you only do it for just a few simple molecules to see the idea.

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Last update: August 20, 2015