Whitman chemistry professor develops teaching software used around the world

Frank Dunnivant
Frank Dunnivant

Associate Professor of Chemistry Frank Dunnivant has released EnviroLab, a chemistry software package that helps visual learners supplement their in-classroom learning by simulating chemistry labs.

For more than 13 years, Associate Professor of Chemistry Frank Dunnivant has worked with students at Whitman College to develop a series of software packages used to supplement classroom learning.

Dunnivant has just released his newest software called “EnviroLab,” which allows students to re-enact a lab experience on the computer. Through animation, students simulate the lab and can do almost everything that students physically do in a real laboratory experiment.

“The purpose of EnviroLab is not to replace the whole laboratory experience, but to allow students to walk through and familiarize themselves with the lab beforehand,” he said.

Dunnivant has created nine chemistry software packages available for free download on his website, and his software is downloaded more than 15,000 times per year from users in at least 110 countries.

“When I first started making the software, I didn’t think we’d get any more than 50 people interested,” Dunnivant said.

EnviroLab is an update to “EnviroLand,” which was Dunnivant first software package, produced in 1998 with a Dreyfus Foundation Grant. According to Dunnivant, online simulations like EnviroLab are one of the most helpful teaching tools in the sciences for college students.

“People are visual learners,” Dunnivant said. “These simulations are one of the more progressive teaching tools. As opposed to just reading or hearing the lesson, students can make mistakes and understand and see what they did wrong.”

Dunnivant in lab

Whitman students are a huge part of EnviroLab and the success of Dunnivant’s other software ventures. Alumni Elliot Anders ’01, Jake Ginsbach ’09 and Angela Raso ’12 are a few of the students that have helped program and rewrite the software.

Many of the students who have worked on the software have received academic credit and have gained valuable computer skills not otherwise offered at Whitman.

“Making these programs is a slow evolutionary process. I never anticipated going any farther than the first program, but there’s so much to do and there are so many students ready to help,” Dunnivant said.

Visit Dunnivant's homepage to view and download the EnviroLab software.