What is Chemix?
It’s a website for creating lab diagrams in an easy and intuitive way. You can drag and drop lots of items and pieces of apparatus and assemble your diagram. You can save it to use in teaching material or just show students how to set up an experiment in the lab.
How did this start?
This is not my day job. I’m not a teacher and I don’t even know that much about chemistry!
I created the start of Chemix about 12 years ago when I was still studying and having trouble drawing diagrams for my lab report and thought why not make a program out of it? Well,it took much longer to make the program that just draw the diagram, but I have a lot of fun creating it!
I put the program online and then just left it dormant for 7-8 years, and then saw that people were using it. I started to slowly upgrade it, because in 8 years the technology had definitely moved on. Last year, in 2019, I converted the original code from Flash to HTML5, so it can go into the future.
Because the app was originally in Flash, it actually had a terrible interface. I think at the time the cool thing was 3D looking buttons with shading and gradients. It was very busy. When I came back to it, I wanted to go for something more muted and flat. I wanted the interface to be less exciting to make the content stand out. I’m not really a designer by trade, so I just drew the simplest shapes I could and then recreated those in HTML5 and that’s what stuck.
Drawing in code
I write the code first and then it shows up on the screen.For example, if I look at a beaker, I consider the individual points of the beaker and then write those in code and then it shows up on the screen. The disadvantage is that it’s not like PhotoShop, where you have immediate feedback of what you are creating, so it’s an iterative process and I have to go back and forth to see if it looks right. The advantage is that I can reuse a lot of stuff. I can use a routine to take one side of a shape and then mirror it or flip it over.
The addition(al) funnel
I had never seen one in my life! I had to asked people what it is used for, how big it was, and what options would they want to have with the funnel. It usually takes anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours to design a new piece of equipment, depending on the complexity. The addition funnel itself was not difficult, but the pressure equalizing arm was a bit of a challenge,because I needed to join shapes together and then break them apart again. That took a lot of trial and error.
Outreach on Twitter
My main point of interaction with users is through Twitter (@ChemixLab). I have gotten great feedback from people. I found a school in Croatia that had produced a video tutorial on how to use Chemix. They were getting students familiar with the lab environment and the equipment before they had to do the lab in real life. That was a use case I had not foreseen with Chemix.
The next steps
Anyone can download Chemix diagrams and use it in publication and teaching material, it’s copyright free. I am adding new items every day as much as I can this year. I hope to add 50 more. I want to add text and a feature to write chemical formulas easily. Right now, it’s just me. If I could turn this into a business, then I could really get more people to work on it and add physics and biology. There are so many things I want to do, but there’s only one of me, and I would need to figure how to scale this operation.
I have been humbled by the positive feedback and am learning more about chemistry and biology, so I can build Chemix to be even better. It’s been a great journey and I hope it continues!
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