Are Atoms Real? - 1860 Karlsruhe Conference of Chemistry

Game Authors:  David Henderson (Trinity College) & Susan Henderson (Quinnipiac University)

Are Atoms Real - 1860 Karlsruhe Conference of Chemistry, is a game designed for use in introductory chemistry courses, as well as courses in the history of science. The three issues in the game are:

1. Are atoms real or just a theoretical idea?

2. Should all types of experiments produce the same result for formulas and relative weights?

3. What are the correct relative weights of the elements and formulas of compounds?

The first question pits empiricists who accept only what they discover with the five senses against realists who use experiments and logic to infer that atoms must be real. The factions present conflicting values for the relative weights of elements and the empirical formulas of simple organic compounds in the format of a professional meeting. These are based on differing interpretations of a collection of experimental data.  In this game, students can be required to do the calculations from raw experimental data or if less emphasis on quantitation is desired, students can be given the results of the calculations and then defend their interpretation of the results. Much of the conflict in the game centers on the proper formulas for water and carbonic acid and the relative weights of carbon and oxygen. These were much in dispute in 1860. The game fits particularly well in courses that look at the historical development of chemistry including the Atoms First approach. For conference play, no calculations will be required.

Version 5.1 is now posted. This replaces all previous versions. This version has been formatted using the standard template for RTTP games. The order of role assignments has also been improved so the game can be played with as few as 9 students and as many as 40.  The guides for calculation and interpretation for each faction have been improved to give better guidance. The game has been simplified, especially the Berzelian data, to make it less formidable for starting students. The addition of more information on substitution reactions gives the organic structuralists a solid basis to make their arguments. Some changes in victory objectives and strategy also give the Liebig faction a better chance to win and provide a better narrative flow to the game.

Instructor's manual is encrypted. To obtain the password, contact david.henderson at The IM includes worked out examples of all problems and complete solutions to problems the students must do.

The spreadsheet provides a way to keep track of students and sort them by name and faction.
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
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  2295k v. 2 Feb 3, 2016, 2:10 PM David Henderson
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  238k v. 1 Jan 23, 2016, 8:24 AM David Henderson
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  11k v. 1 Sep 3, 2014, 12:12 PM David Henderson