UNH Professor Turns Chemistry Into A Game

WEST HAVEN, CONN. – A fast-paced card game developed by a University of New Haven professor and others that teaches children chemistry and reinforces simple math skills s will be on the market in time for the holidays.

Called Valence after the word chemists use to describe the number of electrons an element has in its outer shell (and therefore explains its ability to ‘bond’ with others), the game uses Ninja characters to draw children ages eight and above into the game.


One of the developers of the game, Amanda Simson, who successfully completed her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Columbia University in 2013, is now an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of New Haven.

While at Columbia, she began working with friend, Nathan Schreiber, an artist, who was creating comic books to teach kids science. A former middle school teacher, Simson was an adviser to the comics and drew her Columbia University lab partner, Naomi Klinghoffer, into the project. Then they started working on Valence.

The three put the game on KickStarter where it developed enough of a following that soon it will be featured early in 2016 on Amazon and in boutique stores around the country.

The game was a staff pick on KickStarter and had 1,144 backers, Simson said. Most people were purchasing one or two copies of the game, which sells for $25 each, although some purchased the “teacher’s package” that includes three lesson plans and eight games. The three are working now on books, videos and other applications to accompany the game.

Simson, who spent three years as a middle school teacher in Teach for America, including two in Miami and one in New York City, said she feels strongly that middle school students need more exposure to science, technology, engineering and math topics. The game is also intended to show that scientists can be cool and hip and that science is open to all people.

“The focus groups we did on the game showed that students really enjoyed it,” she said. “They were focused on winning not even realizing how much they were learning along the way. It’s important to demonstrate that topics like chemistry can be fun.”

Valence relies on students drawing cards each marked with a chemical element such as rogen, and the number of electrons it has to give (positive) or how many electrons it needs (negative) to have a full valence shell. If the Valence numbers add up to zero, they form a molecule. (So for example, students can combine hydrogen (+1) and oxygen (-2) to form H2O or water.) Players then select their molecule from the molecule bank by matching the colors of the elements to the colors of the molecules. These colors represent the element’s group on the periodic table – Halogens, for instance, are red. Along the way, players earn points for their combinations and must accumulate 10 points to win the game.

The game is available at: http://playvalence.com/ A video about the game is here.

When she is not teaching or working on the game, Simson’s research focuses on using heterogeneous catalysis in applications like emissions control and alternative energy technologies. Before joining UNH, Simson, a New Haven resident, spent two years developing hydrogen production technologies for Watt Fuel Cell in Port Washington, N.Y.