Top 10 (Free) Apps for Scientists

June 13, 2012 | Posted by Piper in Research |

This article was originally published here in the Berkeley Science Review.

Like so many other scientists out there, I feel inherently guilty when I am not working. Even that minute waiting for the bus or in line for lunch. I should be reading papers and thinking about science in those precious moments I’m not physically in the lab. When I need my science fix, my iPhone keeps me company. These are the 10 best science-centric apps I have found, keeping me up to date on what papers are coming out, where the public discourse is going, and tickle my general interest in science.

1. Twitter. An app that most of you probably have already, Twitter is a tremendous resource for science. Follow the prolific science tweeters; they will tweet not only their own research and publications, but also general science news, and links to cool article that are either scientific in nature or about science broadly. Top twitter recommendations to follow (besides all the relevant journals in your field): @fiainros, @DrRubidium, @BoraZ, @mbeisen, @GertyZ, @ElizabethIorns, @biochembelle, @rwluddite, @DrJenGunter, @chemjobber.

2. ACS Mobile. The ACS Mobile app automatically pulls up ACS ASAPs. You can set it to whichever ACS journals you you prefer. I personally keep the Journal of the American Chemical Soiety and Inorganic Chemistry on my phone, but the app supports any combination of the dozens of journals they publish. You can add papers to “My ASAPs” and reference them at will, which can be very helpful if you want to browse a couple papers of the speaker for a seminar you are about to attend. Though C&EN has its own free app, Chemical & Engineering News also has a tab in the ACS Mobile app; it’s really not necessary to have both. ACS Mobile also has a great search function, just like their website, so any portion of a citation (e.g. a partial citation from the bottom of a slide) can lead you to the full article. ACS also offers ACS MOTW, an app presenting their “molecule of the week,” along with an index of previous MOTWs.

3. PLoS. The Public Library of Science is a wonderful app (and organization) because you can actually read their papers on your phone, regardless of where you are, if you have access, and if your proxy is working. The app takes you right to articles, sectioning them by Most Recent, Most Viewed, and Search. I find this relatively easy to use, but they only offer titles, no author or table of contents, on the scroll menus. I at least would feel more comfortable if the field was mentioned (similar to how PNAS does it online: “Chemistry: Title.”) The app is very easy to use though, and allows one to favorite or save papers they find.

4. RSC Mobile. The RSC Mobile app is similar to the ACS app. You can choose any table of contents you are interested in flipping through. You can choose which journals you want to appear in your feed (mine are Annual Reports Section “A” (Inorganic Chemistry), Chemical Science, Chemical Society Reviews, and Dalton Transactions). Their search function is easy to use, and it’s easy to save or email papers you have found. RSC’s general science magazine, Chemistry World, has its own app Chem World, which is not included within the RSC Mobile and is a good choice to keep up with their blog, news, and podcasts.

5. MRS Bulletin. The MRS bulletin app makes you download issues, which are normally annoying. But past that activation energy (easily completed during a boring seminar or a long elevator ride), the app offers full MRS bulletin magazines going back years. It is a great read: enjoyable science meant for a broad community (i.e. not too technical.) You are unable to move to the next page while you are zoomed in, which is less than ideal, but there is enough content on every page that you have usually forgotten about it by the time you have to do it again. I really appreciate the complete content and freedom to browse whatever interests me.

6. YouTube. YouTube is becoming a greater resource for scientists. From watching a professional perform tricky experiments, to movies from seminars, to full lectures from conferences and universities: depending on how long your break is, YouTube offers a fantastic app to learn a lot of scientific technique.

7. Nature. Nature requires you to have a Nature account to use their app. And while the account creation process is a little cumbersome, the app itself is quite practical and informative. Sections are separated by journal (Nature, Nature Communications, Nature News, etc.) and by article type (editorial, comments & opinion, etc.). The research highlights offer titles and table of content figures; if you click further, it also provides author and abstract information. The one editorial currently available without a subscription was formatted in a font and style easy to read on the iPhone. The app is great, but there may not be a lot of free content to read.

8. Springer Link. The SpringerLink app doesn’t have scrolling content, so if you are bored and just flipping through, it is certainly not a good choice. If you do want specific content, however, the search function is adequate enough not to be a significant time sink. I generally find the Springer searches particularly frustrating online; the app is not a marked improvement. While searching for a specific paper, the app struggled to find it and the advanced search function is not very useful—you cannot specify an author’s first name, for example.

9. ScienceDirect. Science Direct has about five articles you can just scroll through on the app’s front page; this is another that is best if you are searching for something specific. You can save articles and searches. Like SpringerLink, I often have trouble with their search function online, and the app is no exception, but it is necessary to view papers not available elsewhere.

10. Science Facts. I love this one. It is addictively fun to flip through little one-liners about science. A lot of them are very obvious and some are questionable (none contain references), but here are the first three produced when I loaded the app: Ablutophobia is the persistent, abnormal and unwarranted fear of bathing, washing, or cleansing. An average person produces about 1.7 liters of saliva each day. Dogs and cats consume over $11 billion worth of pet food a year. If you just have a second, it gives you an enormous pool of options for dinner party conversation.

Honorable Mention: Reaxys, Science Books, CAS Colors of Chemistry, Amino, OrgChemNom, Wikipedia, JBC, AJNR, IOPscience, Periodic Table, iTunesU, J Cell Bio, and Scopus Alerts (I didn’t have access to try the latter).

One section of apps that I don’t discuss (but definitely recommend) are conferences-specific, focusing on schedules and abstracts. For instance, the Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting in San Francisco this year offered me a chance to use their awesome app to keep a schedule of talks I wanted to see, it filed all of the abstracts and authors, and I never had to lug a huge schedule book around with me.

About the author

Piper J. Klemm (Twitter: @piperjklemm) is a Ph.D. Candidate in Chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, studying the next generation of MRI contrast agents in the laboratory of Professor Kenneth N. Raymond. She is also the National Social Media Coordinator for Iota Sigma Pi (the women’s honors society in chemistry), an Associate Language Editor for Molecular Imprinting (a Versita open-access journal), as well as being part of the Science Exchange Advocate program. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College (Hartford, CT).

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