>Science, Engineering

Visualizing Acid-Base Chemistry for Environmental Scientists and Engineers

Project Description:

Our novel project created a technology-enhanced software tool that explores acid-conjugate base distributions. Students using the software visualize variations in concentration of acid/base species as the pH changes.  The visualization presents an image that boosts understanding of complex chemical concept that is widely used in the basic and applied sciences and engineering. Our specific product calculates ionization fractions, also called alpha values, which are a powerful tool. Ionization fractions are often underutilized because the fractions have to be individually calculated using complex algebraic equations. Currently no online calculator exists available through the internet.

Aim 1 was to develop the software tool.  This was accomplished using JAVA software and GUI-interfaces to build a working prototype software tool. Input thermodynamic values (pKas) are available for common acids and conjugate bases. The colorful, interactive, live output graphs help the user understand and intuit ionization fractions, as well as calculate individual values for different acid at any pH.

Aim 2 makes the software tool openly available to students. For this mini SEAD Grant, the software tool was available to students in S 2019 CEE 5184 as a downloadable file posted to course CANVAS.  Student reaction to the software tool was extremely favorable as indicated by these comments.

    • “This software is helpful. It helps me to prevent calculation errors that are very easy to make when I’m trying to calculate alpha values” (Note: equations for alpha are complex algebraic equations and many terms have exponents)
    • “It would save a lot of time and would be more convenient to use.”

The team continues explore options for making the software tool available on-line. To this end, the descriptions for licensing and a disclaimer were prepared and shared with the Office of University Legal Counsel for their input.

Next Steps

    • Continue to explore options for making the software tool available on-line.
    • Make software tool available in fall 2019 to students in CEE 5104 Environmental Chemistry (Instructors: Dietrich and Godrej), CEE 3104 Intro to Environmental Engineering (Instructors: Dietrich and other), and in 2020 to students in GEOS 5834 Chemical Hydrogeology (Instructor: Schreiber).
    • Investigate funding to develop pilot and assessment protocols of the prototype for fall 2019 in CEE 5104 and CEE 3104.


Jon Briganti, University Libraries
Anne M. Brown, University Libraries
Adil Godrej, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Conor Gallagher, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Food Science and Technology
Conor Kelly, Computer Science and Chemistry
Madeline Schreiber, Department of Geosciences
Michael J. Stamper, University Libraries
Anita R. Walz, University Libraries

Collaborative Colleges:
College of Engineering
College of Science
University Libraries