Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

The Safer Chemical Design Game - Gamification of green chemistry and safer chemical design concepts for students

Yale Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering developed an educational online game, which introduces concepts of sustainability, chemistry and rational design to undergraduate students using a virtual environment.

Research shows that communication and critical thinking in students can be substantially increased by integrating practical and hands-on experiences into their curriculum. Other research has shown that the use of practical experiences, as well as the bridging of disciplines through projects, can positively influence interest in science and knowledge retention. Integrating these findings into existing lesson plans would promote development of more integrative courses and would allow students to make more connections between the scientific topics of study and the problems that they face in daily life.

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in using computer simulations with game mechanics to improve pedagogical effectiveness and reinforce information acquisition. These tools can quickly immerse students in a new topic and effect increased performance. Since educational simulations can be built to facilitate exploration of different scenarios and guide students through decision-making processes, they represent an enhancement to conventional student curriculum. Gamified learning utilizes game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.

The game was designed to introduce students to safer chemical design concepts and focused on the manipulation of the physicochemical parameters in order to minimize the undesired biological and environmental interactions of a hypothetical commercial chemical. The game scenarios that are presented to the student (player) model the decision-making process used by professionals to design a new chemical. Critically, the computer game simulates the real-world constraints that may affect chemical product development as the student designs a novel product. The students are challenged to design a safer, and more sustainable chemical product using multi-criteria decision analysis. Players can select different combinations of molecular parameters that lead to qualitative outputs related to toxicity, biodegradability, biotransformation, and overall performance. In doing so, the player must navigate potential trade-offs as a consequence of their choices. The parameter choices are included within scenarios embedded within two levels of increasing complexity. Each level is divided into three challenges, or tasks, that are related to the attributes of the chemical product, namely, potential for human toxicity and aquatic toxicity and performance (function). As students progress through different challenges, they are offered “Tips” which include additional information to aid their parameter choices. Both levels require the lower order learning objective of fact memorization as well as the higher order learning objective of knowledge transfer as the student optimizes the chemical product against multiple product requirements across tasks. The design of the chemical product is evaluated on function and avoidance of toxicity. Feedback after each task allows players to redesign the chemical product to improve the design.

The game concepts are based on the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry and introduce toxicology and pharmacokinetic concepts such as absorption, distribution metabolism and excretion. While the simulation is based on scientific principles and will educate students in real-life challenges, it is also intended to entertain and engage students using game mechanics. The player is rewarded for successfully designing a safer chemical based on information, data and feedback within the game that exhibits principles of gamification, namely goal orientation, achievement (i.e. reward points), reinforcement (looping based on feedback), and fun orientation. Based on this gameplay design, Yale Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering hoped to achieve the objectives below.

Game Objectives

  • Produce a scientifically accurate game that provides students an opportunity to solve problems as though they are practicing professionals.
  • Engage and entertain students through a captivating storyline and the relevance to real-world issues (i.e. sustainability).
  • Teach sustainable design principals and life cycle thinking.
  • Educate students about toxicity, biodegradability, and overall performance of a hypothetic chemical product.
  • Incorporate systems thinking and interdisciplinary content at the nexus of chemistry, toxicology, and environmental science.


The Safer Chemical Design Game is live and can be accessed by: http://greenchemistry.yale.edu/education/undergraduate-graduate → Safer Chemical Design Game.