Alumni Services

Lighting up science

Inspired by the International Year of Light and with the help of an alumni funded grant, Dr Adam Kirrander led a team in creating an interactive and educational computer game.

Dr Adam Kirrander

Based in the School of Chemistry, Chancellor's Fellow Dr Adam Kirrander develops new theories and computational methods for quantum dynamics and molecules.

His work is motivated by the opportunities provided by new light-sources as he looks into the ways of using light to control chemistry.

His research could solve outstanding riddles in our understanding of how nature works and ultimately lead to new technologies but because the benefits are not immediate, public outreach initiatives are an important way of explaining complex research and communicating the passion and enthusiasm of his research team.

First of all, our research is something we are very passionate and enthusiastic about, and so we love telling others about it. Second, we are funded by public means and so it seems more than fair to tell the public about the research we are doing at their expense!

Dr Adam Kirrander



One such outreach project led by Dr Kirrander was the creation of a video game for Explorathon 2015, an event celebrating science and the work of European researchers that took place at the National Museum of Scotland in September.

In Excitune planet Earth is being invaded by giant molecules; to save the planet players sing or whistle a tune at frequencies that destroy the alien invaders.

The game, which correlates with Adam and his team’s real-world research, aims to show how molecules absorb and emit light.

Made possible through an alumni-funded Innovation Initiative Grant (IIG), the team did not start out to develop a computer game but, as their ideas developed, the application of game design principles, or gamification, to make the educational content engaging emerged as a good fit for what they wanted to achieve.

We really set out to make a simple interactive exhibit, but as we worked on it the ‘gamification’ aspect just popped up as a natural conclusion of trying to make the exhibit interesting and engaging to everyone. 

Dr Adam Kirrander

The science of light

Excitune aims to teach people about how molecules change in response to absorbing light. For instance, the molecule may undergo a chemical reaction, or transform the light to light of a different colour.

Examples of such photochemical (or ‘light’-chemical) processes, including the detection of light in the retina of our eyes which makes human vision possible, and the absorption and storage of energy from the sun by plants which underpins almost all life.

These photochemical processes always begin by the absorption of one unit of light, called a photon, which leads to a molecule-specific rearrangement of the electrons in the molecule. This process also underpins spectroscopy, one of science’s most important technologies and one that is used right across the sciences  from identifying the contents of our food, to studying the composition of far-away stars.

Our exhibit aims to explain how this absorption (and hence spectroscopy) works, and show the beautiful patterns formed by the electrons in the molecule in response to the light.

Dr Adam Kirrander

Related links

School of Chemistry

University of Edinburgh takes part in ‘Explorathon’ science festival (via The Student)

The Edinburgh Fund