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As the title says. What's the point of learning everything in 2D and trying to visualize and interpret stereochemistry, newman structures, isomers etc, with hundreds of hours wasted, when a 3d visualization suite could be used to teach everything instead, without any ambiguities as to what the structure looks like? The 2D format seems completely irrelevant besides the communication of chemical structures on paper.

Surely a better system would teach everything in 3D first to gain a true visual and theoretical understanding of the subject, and ONLY THEN taught in 2D on how to simplify things for proper communication?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Martin - マーチン, Abel Friedman, t.c, ron, user7232 Oct 24 '14 at 21:30

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. It's easier to learn in 2D, simply because it's simple. Once you know the 2D foundations, feel free to look at it in 3D. 3D will involve too many specials effects and distract from the actual structure (IMO). $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Oct 24 '14 at 16:43
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The problem is that 3d is not enough either.

Most organic molecules can have multiple conformations, and drawing them all is impossible. However, influence of groups quickly reduces with distance growth, so only local 3d neighborhood is required most of the time, and it can be adequately described in 2d using shaded and unshaded triangles, even if needed. On the other hand, 2d sketches can be done quickly, while adequate 3d structures are not that easy to come with, and in some cases the exact 3d structure is debatable at best.

Still, visualisation and 3d-models for some key molecules and transition states are useful.

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  • $\begingroup$ Face it, a molecule is really a multinuclear atom - a dynamic entity consisting of atomic nuclei and electrons that is constantly in motion and is governed primarily by electostatic forces and quantum laws. Concepts such as hybridization, bonds, bond order, atomic radii, polarization, etc., along with Dreiding models, space filling models, MO models, etc. are all imperfect crutches we use in trying to understand this beast. $\endgroup$ – iad22agp Oct 24 '14 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ iad22agp, these are my exact thoughts. And I don't feel, as a student, visualizing everything on paper is building a good theoretical understanding. What's two protons with nuclear force next to two neutrons? Helium.. but separate those two protons until they're no longer under that nuclear force, and now it's hydrogen gas. Nothing changed only the distance and electron densities. I think the proper physics must be visualized in a 3D space, including protons and all along with an electron cloud and then the abstractions like hybridization etc taught so more complex molecules can be understood. $\endgroup$ – user4779 Oct 25 '14 at 2:03
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Organic chemistry is often taught in 3D. There have long been 3D molecular models used in classrooms, as well as Fischer projections.

Sometimes 2D is enough for a given situation. Maybe curved 4-dimensional spacetime is needed for some situations, vicinity of neutron stars or black holes lets say.

Use the simplist description that includes all the relavent concepts.

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    $\begingroup$ My first chemistry class was in 1968. I still think that a model kit that you can hold in your hands is better than 3D graphics to get a solid understanding of how a molecule fits together in 3D. After you handle some simple molecules by hand then you are prepared to graduate to more complex models in 3D computer graphics which are available today. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Feb 23 '18 at 20:12
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The problem it boils down to is ease of communication. When you develop a new synthetic pathway, or you find the newest cancer drug, you want to tell the whole scientific community about it, and the medium for that is scientific articles, published in scientific journals after rigorous peer-review.

Those articles were traditionally printed on dead trees (i.e. paper) and are now mostly just read on-screen in PDF format. With both of these cases, it is not easily feasible to include 3D visualisation more than what is already done in class on a blackboard. Wedges, bold lines and parallel perspective are used all over the world and they mean the same thing. We already have a system that works well enough, why change?


I too sometimes run into the problem that I cannot easily visualize the 3D structure of some molecule. Then I build it from a model by hand, or on the computer. Those few cases where I had to do that simply do not justify the overhead if you want to do this for every molecule.

Surely a better system would teach everything in 3D first to gain a true visual and theoretical understanding of the subject, and ONLY THEN taught in 2D on how to simplify things for proper communication?

You are absolutely free to teach organic chemistry the way you want to. But you will then see, that this generates a bunch of work for the set-up of that system (figuring out which software to use, writing guides for the students to use the software) and basically everyone needs a screen in the lecture hall. A blackboard is readily available, easily erasable and as such the best option.

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  • $\begingroup$ I absolutely agree here. But I just mean as a self-study student attempting to gain a theoretical understanding of the subject, using software like chembiosuite seems more effective than the tutorials that teach everything in a 2d sense. $\endgroup$ – user4779 Oct 25 '14 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ But then every student has to find out for himself whether he/she needs that kind of supplement. If that is what you really want to talk about, this question was rightfully closed as being primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – tschoppi Oct 25 '14 at 6:55

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