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Nuclear (for iPad)

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  • Pros

    Interactive. Educational. Fun. Basic functions are free.

  • Cons

    Cursory descriptions. No social media integration. Annoyingly frequent upgrade solicitations.

  • Bottom Line

    Nuclear is a fun, hands-on element-building app with plenty of free content but annoyingly frequent solicitations to upgrade once you've run through most of it.

By Tony Hoffman

Nuclear, a free (with in-app purchases) iPad app, takes you on a journey deep into the subatomic world. The app lets you build chemical elements by adding protons, neutrons, and electrons—one at a time—to a wildly spinning virtual atom. There are in-app purchases, but even the basic version gives you plenty of room to experiment. Nuclear is a beautiful, interactive educational app for budding chemists. Despite its dangerous-sounding name, the worst peril you will face is in accidentally creating a virtual unstable isotope.

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Nuclear is made by Escape Velocity Ltd., who also brought us the Star Chart app. It can run on an iPhone or iPod touch as well as the iPad. I tested it on an iPad Air 2 running iOS 10.2.

Design and Features

In the Atom view, the center of the screen is an open area where you build atoms. Toward the bottom of the screen are three squares (bins) representing the building blocks of atoms: protons, neutrons, and electrons. To add a particle, you touch your finger to a bin and drag it into the open area. Starting with hydrogen (one proton and one neutron), you build atoms by adding particles to the mix. A brief tutorial takes you through the basics of adding particles.

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You can build the first 54 elements for free; to access the remainder of the 118 elements requires a $2.99 in-app purchase. Another $2.99 in-app purchase lets you view all stable isotopes without having to build them. You can buy both of these features for $4.99.

Once I had gotten above element 40 or so, I started getting popups that said "Upgrade Nuclear: To continue exploring you need to upgrade." At ruthenium (element 44), I found that I couldn't build any higher, getting repeated warnings to upgrade instead. Even so, creating the ones I did was a fun and rewarding experience, and you can unlock the rest of the elements for a modest price.

Nuclear (for iPad)

At the bottom of the screen are four icons, labeled Atom, Bohr, Periodic Table, and Settings. Atom takes you to the default view, which shows electrons wildly orbiting the nucleus. Bohr, shows the Rutherford-Bohr depiction of an atom, with the electrons sedately orbiting the nucleus in shells. Periodic Table shows up the table, with elements you have created color-coded according to their group, and those you haven't yet built grayed out and marked with a question mark. If you haven't paid to unlock the second part of the periodic chart, elements 55 through 118 will be shaded in an even darker gray. Pressing Settings lets you replay the tutorial, reset the app (erasing any elements you have already built), upgrade the app, or go to the App Store's Star Chart page.

Nuclear (for iPad)

Quite Elementary

Nuclear is one of several iPad apps related to the chemical elements that we have reviewed. The Elements: A Visual Exploration provides photographs, extensive data—including diagrams of its crystal structure and electron shells, a chart of its spectral lines, and a miniature periodic table showing the element's place on it—and several paragraphs describing each element. The free NOVA Elements app has an element-building game, a NOVA video on the elements, and an interactive look at the periodic table. Nuclear is finely focused on the task of letting you build elements, and only has the most cursory information about the elements and their properties.


The Nuclear app provides an experiential journey into the subatomic world, constructing atoms out of protons, neutrons, and electrons. You can do a lot with the free portion of the app, but the frequency of upgrade warnings proved annoying. Nuclear lacks the versatility and some of the elegance of The Elements: A Visual Exploration, but that Editors' Choice app is relatively expensive. Although it doesn't provide much information on the elements themselves, Nuclear is a good playground for budding chemists to get a hands-on try at building them.

Tony Hoffman By Tony Hoffman Senior Analyst, Printers, Projectors, and Scanners Twitter Email

As Analyst for printers, scanners, and projectors, Tony Hoffman tests and reviews these products and provides news coverage for these categories. Tony has worked at PC Magazine since 2004, first as a Staff Editor, then as Reviews Editor, and more recently as Managing Editor for the printers, scanners, and projectors team. In addition to editing, Tony has written articles on digital photography and reviews of digital cameras, PCs, and iPhone apps Prior to joining the PCMag team, Tony worked for 17 years in magazine and journal… More »

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