Elements, Smell-O-Mints

One of my goals with Mac Gems is to cover a wide variety of products—I want everyone to eventually discover something useful. As part of this process, I pay close attention to feedback from readers on the types of products they'd like to see. I've recently received a few requests for more coverage of educational software Gems, and I'm happy to oblige. In fact, one of my favorite teaching/learning aids has recently received a major update.

I first learned about the periodic table of elements in sixth grade science class, and used it regularly in high school chemistry. Back when I was a kid—imagine this sentence being read in a “grumpy old man” voice—my periodic table was either a photocopy handed out by the teacher or, if I was lucky, a nifty color-coded version in the back of my chemistry book. But given the growing number of school districts around the country that supply students with iBooks (or at least provide access to computers at school), and the increasing popularity of the Mac platform, it seems only fitting that today's students have a more high-tech version of the periodic table for their Macs.

John Schilling has obliged by bringing his oddly named but useful Smell-O-Mints 2.1 (   ; www.jschilling.net; free), an electronic periodic table of the elements, back from the dead with a major feature update and a pleasing Aqua interface. Like any good periodic table, Smell-O-Mints shows all the known elements in their proper locations, using color to designate elemental types (metals, noble gases, etc.). Clicking on an element shows more information for that item in a special detail box in the lower left:

 

Smell-O-Mints main window

 

A helpful key explains what each bit of information means:

 

Smell-O-Mints key

 

A good high school chemistry book provides most of this info, but Smell-O-Mints takes advantage of its digital nature with a few unique features. Unlike paper tables, which show each element's symbol and name, Smell-O-Mints shows only an element's symbol by default; clicking on the element then displays its name. This makes it a useful study aid: Guess each element, and then see if you were correct. Conversely, if you can't seem to find a certain element, you can type its name in the Find Element box to highlight it in the table and show its details onscreen. Even better, after finding an element, clicking the globe button next to its name will open your Web browser to that element's entry in the Wikipedia.org online encyclopedia to get more information. (Another advantage of digital tables is that they can be quickly updated when new elements are discovered or created—there are few more today than there was when I was in science class...)

Smell-O-Mints also provides a number of handy specialized views of the periodic table that just aren't possible with a single sheet of paper. In addition to the standard table, it offers color-coded views showing Solids, Liquids, and Gases; Metals and Non-Metals; Radioactive Elements; Synthetic/Decay Elements; Crystal Structures (showing which elements are cubic, hexagonal, tetrahedral, etc.); and Block Groups. If only my old photocopy let me see these kinds of information so easily! You can even view the periodic table using Simplified Chinese characters.

If you're a teacher or student looking for an effective way to study the periodic table, Smell-O-Mints is a great tool.

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