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Success Story out of the ED/IES SBIR Program:
Schell Games' Happy Atoms

Screen shot of Schell Games' Happy Atoms products

Project Title: Happy Atoms: A Modern Ball and Stick Molecular Modeling Kit for Chemistry

Related ED/IES SBIR Awards:
2014 Phase I ($149,681); 2015 Phase II ($899,542)

Key Information:
Schell Games
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Video Demo:
Contact: Dr. Brooke Morrill;

Happy Atoms is a physical molecular "ball and stick" modeling set and interactive digital app that provides a modern alternative to old-fashioned kits used to teach bonding. The physical model sets feature 16 atoms containing individual electrons and magnetic bonding sites. The companion Happy Atoms mobile app allows users to snap a picture of the molecule they have created and then uses proprietary vision-recognition algorithms to identify the molecule. The app allows for open-ended and guided discovery through various features to continually pique curiosity and interest in chemistry. Designed for high school chemistry with standards-aligned curricular resources for free download, many younger children also enjoy exploring Happy Atoms as they learn about atoms and molecules intuitively.

Research and Development
Happy Atoms was developed iteratively with feedback from teachers and students at many points in the process. Development of the technology focused on creating sturdy yet flexible models with identifiers affixed to each plastic atom so that the app could successfully scan, read, and analyze what molecule was created, as well as creating content for the website that further supports the learning experience. Schell Games partnered with WestEd, a nonprofit research agency, to assess the usability, feasibility of implementation, and student learning outcomes. A pilot study with 187 high school students in 12 chemistry classes at the end of Phase I found that the prototype functioned as intended. Results showed that 88% of students enjoyed using the prototype, and 79% indicated that it helped learning. Results of a randomized controlled trial at the end of Phase II with 1,795 high school students conducted during the 2017 to 2018 school year demonstrated that Happy Atoms was successfully implemented in classrooms and by teachers. Results also revealed that that Happy Atoms provides an alternative to more traditional ways of teaching and learning chemistry, as students in the treatment group performed as well on researcher developed measures of chemistry knowledge aligned to standards and attitudes about science as students who used physical models taught by an expert teacher.

Schell Games partnered with international chemistry set and science toy company, Thames and Kosmos, to bring Happy Atoms to market on Amazon in three sizes: an Introductory Set, a Complete Set, and the Educator's Bundle. The companion Happy Atoms mobile app is a free download available on the App Store (iOS 10.0+), Google Play, and Amazon for Kindle Fire (Android 4.3+). Happy Atoms launched in 2016 and since has been used by tens of thousands of children and students in classrooms and at home. In 2022, Thames and Cosmos released a low-cost 2D version of Happy Atoms and TARGET began selling Happy Atoms and Happy Atoms 2D at its stores around the country.

Selected Awards and Recognition:

  • 2018 – Good Housekeeping (A Top Kids Toy)
  • 2017 – Learning Technologies Awards / Closer Still Award for Most Innovative New Learning Technologies Product-International (Bronze)
  • 2017 – Reimagine Education Virtual/Augmented Reality Award (Shortlisted)
  • 2017 – Tech 50/Pittsburgh Technology Council Innovator of the Year-Consumer Product Award (Winner)
  • 2017 – Augmented World Expo (AWE) Auggie Award for Best Game or Toy (Winner)
  • 2017 – Parents' Choice Award (Silver)
  • 2017 – KAPI Award Winner for Best Educational/Learning Tool (Winner)
  • 2016 – Reimagine Education Virtual/Augmented Reality Award (Shortlisted)
  • 2016 – Techlicious Best of Toy Fair (Official Selection)

Selected News About Happy Atoms:

  • 2019 – The Los Altos Town Crier publishes a story about a student who credited Happy Atoms for learning the periodic table of the elements.
  • 2016 – Huffington Post posts an article called Kids May Learn More from Reverse Augmented Reality
  • 2016 – EdSurge features Happy Atoms and HoloLab Champions in a post about augmented and virtual reality for learning.
  • 2016 – TechCrunch discusses the launch of Happy Atoms.
  • 2016 – TIME covers the coolest toys at the Toy Fair.
  • 2016 – 1776 blogs about What Pokemon Go Means for Education, noting augmented reality game for chemistry, Happy Atoms.