Review of ELEMENTS & NUCLIDES



ELEMENTS & NUCLIDES REVIEW

by John Woodthorpe, "Archive" March 1996 issue


I have a confession to make; I'm fascinated by the Periodic Table and all it represents, and collect software (and T-shirts!) related to it. These two programs are superb examples of what can be done to present an enormous amount of information on the behaviour of the elements. The author Roger Darlington, has spent the last seven years compiling the data and writing these applications for his own enjoyment, and has now decided to share them with us all at a ridiculously low cost via his newly-named company, Atomic Software.

Each of the two applications Elements and Nuclides, comes on an HD floppy (but I presume 800Kb DD ones could be supplied on request) in a plastic wallet with a few A4 pages of documentation, and costs £14.95 for one, or £19.95 for both. To run them, you will need at least 2Mb of RAM and a multisync monitor. I have tested them on suitably equipped A310, A540 and A5000 machines, and I used a RiscPC 600 for this review. Actually, I did discover a few problems, including one specific to the RiscPC (the absence of mode 39 in my monitor definition file), but they have all been resolved promptly by Roger Darlington. Indeed, he has made substantial improvements over the weeks that we have been in contact for this review.

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In use
The most obvious thing you notice on starting either application is that they don't multitask. At first, I was disappointed, but there is so much information on screen that it could become very cumbersome and crowded in the desktop, without putting in a lot of effort to organise windows. Some aspects would definitely benefit from multitasking; such as being able to print the information directly via the RISC OS printer drivers and selecting the parameters to display. Overall, though, it works well as it is, and the author admits that he isn't a WIMP programmer. That is really the only criticism I can level at the programs, and it's a rather half-hearted complaint at that!

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Elements

The paper documentation is minimal, but the application comes with a comprehensive Help file, and contains Ovation and text files explaining some of the terms used. The screen for Elements displays the conventional Periodic Table with control knobs, a text area, a display of the selected property and a thermometer showing important temperatures for the selected element (see overleaf). Each display region changes to reflect the element in question when the cursor is moved, giving a comprehensive collection of information that can be expanded with a mouse click. The most useful piece of paper that was supplied lists the properties that can be displayed, including specific heat capacity, crystal cell sides, ionisation potentials, density, atomic mass, and many others. Selecting these in the program is a little tricky at first, consisting of clicking in one of the 'control knob ' areas to rotate a line pointer, but this has been improved considerably recently.
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The great feature is that there are two of these pointers enabling you to plot two properties against each other (see below), and any screen can be saved as a sprite by pressing the * key on the numeric keypad. There are some suggestions of interesting plots to work through, which could form the basis of classroom discussion or individual worksheets for students investigating the behaviour of the elements.

Nuclides

Here the application splits into two parts; one a comprehensive tutorial on several aspects of nuclear properties, and the other a Segre chart showing all the isotopes of the elements and their decay products (see top right). This is really detailed and an incredible piece of work that takes some getting into.

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You can display the whole chart, a magnified portion, decay products (see below), or half-lives, and save screens by pressing the * key on the numeric keypad as before. The radioactive isotopes are displayed in a flashing colour, which flashes a bit too quickly for my liking, but at least it's distinctive. Extra information on using the software is in the Help file, and the tutorial covers different decay processes, fission, fusion, basic particles and much more.

Summary

I could describe all the features in these programs, but I suspect Paul wouldn't let me have enough space to do them justice! Suffice it to say that this isn't ordinary software - it is outstanding in its scope, detail and originality. If you, or any of the family, have any interest in chemistry, or you're a teacher looking for software for school, you should buy Elements straight away. I love playing with it, looking at different relationships and seeing if I can account for them.

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Nuclides is more specialised, and ideally suited to A Level or University; but when you buy Elements, you might as well get Nuclides for the extra cost and learn about radioactive isotopes in the process. The value for money is incredible, and the level of detail breathtaking.

The only thing I've seen that comes anywhere near them is a US-produced Windows program that does less for three times the price (and they can't spell 'aluminium'!). I described some of the features of these two programs to a PC-owning friend, and he was extremely jealous.

The enthusiasm of the author is another plus point. Having started this for his own benefit, it has now become a labour of love. New information and features are continually being added, and upgrades will be available in return for the original disc and £2: Roger suggests every six months for this, which seems a very good idea.

At these prices, everyone should send their cheques to: Atomic Software, 1 Fells Grove, Worsley, Manchester, M28 7JN straight away, and feel proud that we have some chemistry software that can leave other platforms standing!

by John Woodthorpe, "Archive" March 1996 issue


THE AUTHOR RESPONDS

I have not altered any of the above reviews in any way whatsoever. The reviews are now over three years old and a great many additions and improvements to the programs have been made during that period. Indeed, the programs are now twice the size that they were when reviewed, such is the extent of new features and new data. Both are now so big that 2MB RAM is now insufficient to run either program, and 4MB must be available.

There has been a modest price increase since the programs were reviewed to reflect the magnitude of the increase in functionality of the programs.

Roger Darlington, Summer 1999.


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