Schell Games founder Jesse Schell was walking the exhibition halls at Toy Fair last year with a sample of his chemistry-centered Happy Atoms kit and piqued the interest of Thames & Kosmos, the leading S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) toy supplier.
This year Schell was happily part of the Thames & Kosmos Toy Fair booth, having successfully commenced production of Happy Atoms via a crowdfunding campaign and joined forces with T&K for a fall release.
“We’re thrilled these guys showed interest and took it up,” said Schell.
Happy Atoms does in fact fit in perfectly with Thames & Kosmos. It is a physical and digital kit containing a set of 52 atom models representing 16 elements, out of which you can assemble your own molecular models: The atoms snap together magnetically in forming the molecules, thereby becoming stable, or in relation to the product title, happy.
To identify the new molecule, then, the player takes its picture via the included iPad/iPhone app, which uses state-of-the-art image recognition technology to identify it, and can recognize tens of thousands of molecules. It also presents detailed information about 120 of the most important molecules, including usage, properties, hazards, formula, and structure.
The app further encourages discovery of new molecules while tracking and recording the player’s learning progress.
“When it comes to chemistry, kids just want to blow things up, and they get to high school and have to learn algebra!” said Schell, whose company focuses on educational and “transformative” games. “It’s overwhelming, and turns them off–not just to chemistry, but to many careers that require chemistry, like medicine. So I wanted a means of playing with molecules until chemistry becomes intuitive and comfortable.”
Schell noted that study of the periodic table of elements enables “learning letters, but not words. There had to be a better way, and [Happy Atoms] is one of the most important things I’ve ever worked on: The hardest problems in the world—like curing cancer and solving global warming–are chemistry problems.”
Other new Thames & Kosmos product featured at Toy Fair last week included the wall-climbing Geckobot, the Robotics Workshop engineering system for assembling 12 different robots, and the programming instructional CodeGamer. Additionally, Thames & Kosmos has partnered with Mattel to create licensed Barbie S.T.E.A.M.-themed product based on the concept “You Dream It…You Make It!” and designed to be compatible with the original Barbie Dreamhouse.
And by the way, Thames & Kosmos wasn’t alone in its interest in the periodic table. In fact, IAmElemental, a toy company showing its female action figures at Toy Fair, has a direct connection, having created them with superpowers based on a “re-imagining” of the periodic table, replacing the traditional elements with such “building blocks of character” as Honesty and Creativity.
“My sons are in science programs at the American Museum of Natural History and all of their instructors are women,” said Julie Kerwin, head of the New York-based company. “I based the toys on the connection between women and science, and the logical starting point for science is the periodic table.”