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Insight & Intelligence™ : May 1, 2014

Best Science Apps: May Picks

Does your spring cleaning ritual involve getting old apps off your smartphone? Replace them with these apps.
  • Taralyn Tan

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

Loughborough Wave Lab ★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Users can import custom simulations, different modes
No instructions or background information

Learning about electromagnetic wave (or any wave) phenomena just got a bit more visual, thanks to the Loughborough Wave Lab app. With this free app, users can explore wave properties (specifically their propagation and interactions with other waves) via a simple simulation in which users tap the screen to generate a wave. As that wave propagates, a second tap will start a second wave, and so on. Users can pause and re-start the simulation at any point. App users can explore waves via five different excitation modes: Gaussian, sinusoidal, ripple tank, waveguide, and double slit. The wavelength can also be adjusted. Wave aficionados out there can actually configure their own wave simulations using the XML-based syntax CEML (Computational Electromagnetics Markup Language) and import them into the app.

Graphing Calculator HD ★★★★

Platform: iPad
Cost: $1.99
+ Different graph modes, can plot multiple functions at once

Gone are the days of squinting to look at graphs on the small monochromatic screen of your graphing calculator. The Graphing Calculator HD app provides users with an easy-to-use and powerful scientific calculator that displays beautifully (in color) on the iPad. The app supports function, parametric, and polar graph modes, and it allows users to plot up to four functions onto the graph at once (with each function depicted in its own color). The properties of the graph (min, max, etc.) can be adjusted in the “settings” tab, although users can also use standard iPad pinch-and-zoom capabilities to adjust the scaling of the graph. A regular calculator function is also provided, so one can actually use the app for scientific calculations. The keyboard in the app is nicely divided into functions, symbols, and numbers for easy entry.

Chemistry Lab Suite ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Many different tools beyond basic calculators

For the peptide chemist (or anyone who works with proteins or mass spectrometry), the Chemistry Lab Suite app provides a number of useful reference charts and calculators in one handy app. The app is divided into four sections: solutions, proteins, peptide synthesis, and chemicals. The “solutions” tab provides the standard stock and dilution calculators, as well as a list of buffers for different pH ranges. Under the “proteins” section, users will find references for amino acid and peptide properties, as well as tools for mass spectrometry, such as a calculator for peptide fragmentation and a tool to identify mass shifts. The “peptide synthesis” section contains information and protocols related to peptide coupling and resin loading. Finally, users will find a molecular weight calculator and tools related to chemical elements and metabolite identification under the “chemicals” section of the app.

labfolder ★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Syncs with web account, can upload camera photos
Can’t delete notes, limited data upload options

In the era of constantly syncing information between devices and uploading data to the cloud, paper lab notebooks are becoming increasingly outdated. The labfolder app—used in conjunction with the web service—provides a nice “digital lab notebook” that offers researchers access to their notes, data, and protocols from their mobile devices. Registration for a labfolder account is free and easy. The website provides more features than the app in terms of data entry, as the app just allows text entry or photo upload from the device’s camera. A frustrating feature of the app is that while one can create new notes within a notebook, notes cannot be deleted. However, despite these limitations, the app provides a convenient place to jot down notes about your science when you’re on the go, and the fact that it automatically syncs to the web account is nice.

Chemical Safety Data Sheets ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone
Cost: Free
+ Large, searchable chemical inventory, easy to read
Can’t save chemicals to a “favorites” list

It’s no secret that many of the chemicals encountered in research laboratories are not exactly good for human health. The Chemical Safety Data Sheets app provides a convenient method to browse and display the International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSCs) for an expansive collection of chemicals. The chemical collection is arranged alphabetically, and users can search for specific chemicals by their name or by CAS number. Each ICSC presents (in a nicely organized and concise format) the major hazards associated with each chemical (both physical hazards such as flammability and health hazards) alongside corresponding preventative measures and first aid directions. Beneath this first block of information, the ICSC goes on to give information about spillage disposal and storage, physical and chemical properties, and pertinent health information such as routes of exposure, inhalation risk, and effects of short-term and long-term exposure.

Microbiology Virtual Patients ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone
Cost: Free
+ Engaging case studies with many questions
Limited number of case studies

Medical students will enjoy brushing up on their facts with the Microbiology Virtual Patients app by the University of Glasgow School of Medicine. The app’s format is a combination of quiz questions and video game, as the player navigates through a series of 10 microbiology-related case studies across various medical specialties. For each case study, the player is transported to a hospital setting and provided information about his/her patient via the ward nurse. Interspersed with the information are a series of multiple-choice questions testing the player’s medical knowledge. Importantly, each question is accompanied by an explanation of the correct answer, so it can actually be used as a learning tool. The cases are engaging—the only complaint players may have is that there aren’t enough of them.