While I absolutely despise most STEM toys I’m going to give Happy Atoms a pass simply because it is aimed at educators and not for the home market. Created by chemistry set maker Thames & Kosmos along with Pittsburgh-based Schell Games, Happy Atoms teaches kids about building molecules using magnetic atoms that connect in “happy” ways.
The entire kit comes with multiple elements — oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, etc. — that click together. You can then scan the molecule using an iOS device and see data on the elements, as well as a rundown of molecular features. For example, you can build a fructose molecule and then see where fructose appears and what it does to the body, i.e. makes it feel good.
The $359 educator’s bundle comes with 250 atoms, while a 50-atom set costs $129. These things are heavy-duty and require no batteries. The app “reads” the atoms by assessing their color and the color of the dark band around the circumference so you can scan almost any atom in any position.
Again, most STEM toys are garbage. But Happy Atoms solves a unique and pressing problem: how to teach chemistry in three dimensions. I probably would have learned a lot more in high school — during which time I received a note saying that I exhibited a “superb lack of effort” in AP Chemistry — if I had had a 3D view of the atomic world.
While most toys are just that — toys — Thames & Kosmos has been making real chemistry and craft kits for over a century, so they know what they’re doing. That they decided to crowdfund is an interesting decision, but it lets them test the waters and also work in partnership with Schell Games to build both physical objects and apps. It makes me as giddy as a school boy on N2O.