Journey to Neon™ starts out with the basics of an atom. It can take a player or class through high school and to the college level in some areas towards the end of the series. Even if all aspects can not be appreciated by younger players, the exposure and then re-exposure of the subject over the years will make their foundation of chemistry deep and solid. The more one looks at the rubber stamps of the elements, the more one can see as knowledge of the subject accrues. If learners as young as eight have their first brush with the subject, that fear which comes with the unknown will not be a barrier later. When looking at the older students in the 7th and 8th grade, I am struck by how quickly the window of complete open curiosity begins to close. If they have seen, heard and felt the concepts contained in these games early on, perhaps it will be easier to reengage them in a subject they have already had fun with.
I am a fine artist by trade, with a strong background in science, fusing the concepts of molecular and cell biology with mythology and other cultural allegories. When I began designing the Journey to Neon™ chemistry game series, it was to answer questions my children had about atoms and how the world was made. In my typical fashion, the game became a massive art project, consuming me for about two years, during which I spent little time at the easel. Instead, I found myself in places like the garage, gluing together brightly colored wooden orbital toys that made the workbench look like a candy shop. I have always been drawn to texture in my artwork, and so the game became a tactile feast. Hematite matter cubes, wooden neutrons, custom designed and minted proton coins, and magnetic electron arrows are stacked all over the house in mint tins. The center of the project, a set of novel rubber stamps of the elements, were designed under the guidance of Professor Robert Stroud, a prominent scientist and friend at the University of California San Francisco, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
I have always researched the subject matter for my paintings in a thorough manner, and this game is no exception. In the end, I discovered some surprising things about atoms and bonding that somehow escaped me when I took the subject. I believe this is in part due to the pace and load of courses required in college and earlier. Memorization dominates over deep understanding when students and teachers are in a hurry and overworked. I am by no means a career chemist, and I will probably get some criticism from professionals in the field for my bold claim that I can help teach chemistry to young learners, delving into levels of detail not currently included in standard curriculum for perhaps any school in the U.S.A. I have only tested the game on those around me, as it is a long and difficult process to set up a study on children, but I can see the results in those who have played. The concepts infused into the games are fairly basic, but are often glossed over. The first run of this series has turned into a limited edition release I view much like limited edition prints. No two are exactly the same, as there is so much craftsmanship in the manufacturing. No matter what happens with the games in the new and unfamiliar world to me of product marketing, I am happy with the thought that these boxes contain beautiful knowledge about the atom as we currently understand it. I get the same high an artist experiences when that perfect combination of emotional impact and visual accomplishment hits the canvas as when I see the light bulb turn on in my children’s eyes while they contemplate the symbolic parts of an atom they are holding in their hands.
You can find my work at the Brush with Science Gallery in Menlo Park, California, or on the web at www.brushwithscience.com.