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Insight & Intelligence™ : Feb 3, 2014

Best Science Apps: February Picks

Which apps will make your research a little bit easier? Find out here.

Is there an app for that? If there is, you should check if it's in GEN's Best Science Apps first! Every month, we bring you a list of the best biotech- and biopharma-related apps we think you, GEN reader, would find useful and/or interesting. Here is our most recent list of Best Science Apps. Enjoy!

Key:
Four stars: Excellent
Three stars: Very Good
Two stars: Good
+ Strong points
Weak points

Focus on Plant ★★★★

Platform: iPad/Android
Cost: $4.99
+ Beautifully designed; innovative organization of content
A bit expensive, given the limited content

The Focus on Plant app is an excellent (albeit a bit expensive) educational app that introduces students to the basics of plant biology. The app is comprised of five major sections, each of which is given its own home screen within the app: plant structure, plant cell anatomy, plant physiology, life cycle of plants, and plant evolution. Each home screen is cleverly designed such that students get the opportunity to really explore that section. Within a given topic’s home screen, app users can tap on various text labels to reveal more information, and they can also select sidebar menus that open to expose more illustrations and text. The illustrations used throughout the app are beautiful, and the app is overall very well organized. The glossary of terms and quiz feature are also nice additions.

Rogers Mushrooms: Fungi of Europe and North America (Lite) ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Nicely designed

Whether you have an intellectual interest in fungi or are looking to bring out your inner mushroom hunter, the Rogers Mushrooms: Fungi of Europe and North America app is a great resource to learn how to identify a large number of fungal species. In the Lite (that is, free) version of the app, there are fewer species included, but there is still a nice collection of entries. Each species entry is accompanied by one or multiple photos, as well as a description. The edibility of each species is also noted, for those who are culinary-inclined (just be sure to read the important, flashing disclaimer on the homepage of the app). Beyond browsing the entries in a list format, app users can view three different visual summaries of different mushroom types, and they can also search the collection by a number of parameters such as flesh type, spore color, habitat, and location.

Nuclear ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone
Cost: Free (with in-app upgrade)
+ Unique take on the periodic table
Requires in-app purchase to build entire table

A warning right now for people who get motion sickness: the Nuclear app may not be for you. This app, which offers a different take on teaching the periodic table, has students experiment with atom stability by adding protons, neutrons, and electrons to create individual chemical elements. If the balance of atomic particles is not correct, the resulting unstable isotope will degrade right in front of you. So, why the warning about motion sickness? In an attempt to show “realistic” particle movement, the atomic particles are constantly in motion, with electrons quickly spinning in their orbitals around a rotating nucleus. The “Bohr” viewing option does slow the particles down some and allows better visualization of the electron orbitals as students come to know them through chemistry textbook diagrams, but there is still a lot going on on the screen. The free version of the app lets you build elements up to number 54, but you’ll need to pay $0.99 to build the entire periodic table.

HealthTap ★★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Beautifully designed, many features

Medicine, welcome to the age of social media. The HealthTap app is a beautiful (and free!) app that offers users many of the features one might already know from social media (newsfeeds, the ability to “follow” specific users, etc.), but in the context of healthcare. The basic premise of the app is that users submit medical questions and physicians answer them. As a user, therefore, I can either submit my own questions, or search and browse the questions submitted by others. I can also customize my newsfeed to display questions/answers related to specific healthcare topics of interest, such as “the common cold” or “diabetes.” To use the app, users must register for an account; after completing the registration, users can customize their profile pages to get more personalized announcements and suggestions. Additionally, users can choose to “follow” specific physicians—in this way, the app is also designed as a tool for patients to find new physicians (and, likewise, for physicians to bring in new patients).

MacroMole ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone
Cost: $0.99
+ Many illustrations and animations
Can’t manipulate graphics

With a title that evokes images of very large rodents (just me?), the MacroMole app is actually an educational app about very large molecules, especially proteins. The app contains informational modules within seven main categories: functional groups, carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, protein structure, protein survey, and nucleic acids. Each module consists of text along the right side of the screen that is accompanied by images and videos. The graphics and animations are nice, although the app suffers from the noninteractive nature of the illustrations. For instance, app users are unable to rotate, pinch-and-zoom, or otherwise manipulate the illustrations—options that have come to be somewhat expected in tablet apps. This limitation aside, the text of the app is informative and presented at a nice introductory level, and it is well complemented by a large number of graphics.

iSurf BrainView ★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone
Cost: Free
+ Highlighting feature, quiz feature
Limited number of identified structures and descriptions

When learning neuroanatomy or neuroimaging with MRI, it is often helpful to turn away from textbook animations and look at an actual human brain. (Well, you know, images of an actual human brain…) The iSurf BrainView app provides users with access to 3D MRI image stacks through the human brain, from three different perspectives (top-to-bottom, front-to-back, and side-to-side). Using the scroll bar, users can navigate through the stacks, although there is a slight lag when proceeding through the images. The app utilizes the FreeSurfer software program to generate automatic segmentation of the MRI images into different brain regions, which can be highlighted in different colors. Thus, this app can be used as a study tool to learn basic neuroanatomy—the app even includes a quiz feature in which users are asked to identify the highlighted brain region.