A Vietnamese high school senior has developed an augmented reality app that helps students with chemistry after she failed to gain entrance to a national chemistry competition.
Chemoscope is the app designed by Tran Thi Anh Thu, a senior at Bao Loc High School for the Gifted in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.
It won the fourth place prize for systems software and two special awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) 2017, recently held from May 14 to 19 in California.
“I was a chemistry major until I failed [to gain entrance] to a contest,” Thu said. “Now I’m seeking to ‘take revenge’ on that personal failure, as well as on a part of my youth that was dedicated to the wrong passion.”
Chemoscope helps visualize the teaching and learning of chemistry in high schools using augmented reality (AR) technology, which gives a live view of the real-world augmented by computer-generated sound, video, and graphics.
The app turns a smartphone into a virtual laboratory where learners can look up information on elements, chemical reactions and watch chemicals react in real time in simulated videos.
It also gives warnings if the reactions shown pose a threat to anyone conducting future experiments.
“The AR technology the app uses is similar to that used in Pokémon GO, the game that went wild all over the world last year,” Thu explained. “This technology helps Chemoscope users bring the laboratory to their home or anywhere they go. It makes learning chemistry as convenient and portable as a smartphone.”
Last August, fans around the world jumped for joy as the launch of Pokémon GO in 15 countries, including Vietnam, was announced by its developer Niantic. An augmented reality mobile game, Pokémon GO lets players take on the role of ‘trainers’ that catch and train the ‘Pokémon’ that appear as small creatures on the players' devices while they move around in real life. The game was an instant global phenomenon, sending young players out on the street to hunt for the virtual monsters day and night.
Despite winning the fourth prize award at ISEF 2017 in the category of systems software as well as special awards from technology provider GoDaddy and the Oracle Academy, Thu is far from satisfied with her product.
“The interface [of Chemoscope] is not really user-friendly; the database on chemicals is not yet complete; and the app lacks usability in general,” the student said. “I plan to teach myself state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) technology, which has the power to turn users into ‘chemical engineers’ who can perform experiments in a fully virtual environment.”
Tran Thi Anh Thu (first row, second right) takes a group photo with international participants at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2017 in California. Photo: Oracle
Thu could not help but laugh out loud at the mention of her ‘revenge’ on chemistry, taking root from an incident that happened nearly two years ago.
At the time, Thu sat a test to select the best chemistry students in her province to enter a national chemistry contest, but her results were not good enough.
Seeing her “crazily excellent” friends enter the contest, Thu began holding her personal ‘grudge’ against chemistry, a subject she had always performed well in.
“I hated chemistry because it was too difficult even for the chemistry major that I was,” Thu confessed. “Then I thought about how non-major students must have been even more scared of the subject than I was. The birth of Chemoscope was my way of taking ‘sweet revenge’ on the subject while helping others who are grappling with it.”
Chemoscope was not the product of a spontaneous or short-lived passion, as Thu had to spend years teaching herself computer science and programming languages before she could begin coding the app.
“The online community was my teacher,” Thu said of how she had learnt to code from scratch.
Thu’s first computer and smartphone were a luxurious purchase for her parents, who rely solely on a small coffee farm to make a living.
“We couldn’t help but buy her a computer after seeing her so engrossed in machines and programs,” Thu’s mother Tran Thi Linh Trang said. “We kept reminding her to use it for things that would benefit her school work only, as we were worried she would be distracted.”
Thu would download and store any programming-related material she came across on the Internet, hoping one day she would be able to realize her dream of coding her own app.
“I won’t regret my choice even if failure catches up with me in the future,” Thu said. “Programming is my biggest passion.”