Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical

A selection of digital tools that will help you stay informed and boost your productivity.

Feed your brain. Not the one between your ears, but the one inside your pocket or purse. Your smart phone becomes smart—science smart—only when it is loaded with the right apps. So let it sample items from GEN’s Best Science Apps, a digital buffet of sorts.

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

Medscape ★★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android  
Cost: Free
+ Great deal of information, tools, educational resources

The Medscape app by WebMD is an excellent medical resource for medical professionals, students, patients, and just about anyone else. The app is free to use, although users must register for an account. Users have the option to access the clinical reference articles without download within the app (internet connection required), or they can download the library to their mobile device. Content within the app is divided into news, reference, and education sections. The news section can be customized to focus on a chosen specialty (options include “medical student” and “business of medicine” in addition to standard medical specialties) to display only articles relevant to that specialty. The reference section contains a great deal of information on drugs, conditions, and procedures, and also includes tools such as medical calculators and a drug interaction checker. The education section provides case studies, articles, and other resources for continuing medical and professional education.

Medscape for iPad/iPhone/Android

Trendy Chem ★★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ Sleek design, good synthesis of information in build mode
Some exercises get a bit redundant

You might say that the Trendy Chem app is doubly trendy. First, its sleek, high-tech-looking design is sure to earn “cool” points from chemistry students; second, this app emphasizes teaching students about chemical trends of the periodic table. Through a number of exercises, the app quizzes students on subatomic particles (finding the number of electrons, protons, or neutrons of an element, given the atomic and mass numbers), periodic families (alkali metals, halogens, etc.), and periodic trends (atomic radius, electronegativity, electron affinity, and ionization energy). There is also a neat build mode that has students synthesize information and build elements according to particular requirements (e.g. build a transition metal that has an atomic radius larger than lithium).

Trendy Chem for iPad/iPhone/Android

Open Drug Discovery Teams ★★★

Platform:  iPad/iPhone
Cost: Free
+ A variety of topics and varied content
Requires Internet connection to browse content

Sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Open Drug Discovery Teams app brings together open science data and science news that is focused on research into rare and neglected diseases. Content is organized into 32 categories that include rare (and some common) diseases, along with some general topics. Uniquely (although this may just be a harbinger of things to come), this app gathers its content from Twitter. Thus, app users browse through a manicured collection of link-containing tweets, clicking on links of interest to display them in an in-app browser. App users don’t need Twitter accounts themselves; however, if users want to get involved with content curation they will need to configure a Twitter account (and allow the app to access it).

Open Drug Discovery Teams for iPad/iPhone

SpinTable ★★★

Platform: iPad
Cost: $2.99
+ Nice design, information given in an uncluttered way
– No user guide or introduction

Before all you aspiring DJs out there get excited, no, this app will not help you hone your music-mixing skills. No, the target audience for this app is more along the lines of NMR spectroscopists and students of chemistry. SpinTable provides a periodic table of the elements that is optimized for NMR/MRI spectroscopy—that is, it includes information such as spin states, quadrupole parameters, NMR frequencies, and chemical shift ranges (with reference standards). Additionally, the app includes a reference sheet of carbon-13 NMR solvent chemical shifts and links to the Wikipedia pages for each element. The design is sleek and minimalistic, although it is perhaps too minimal in its omission of a tutorial or introduction for students who may not be familiar with all of the information displayed before them.

SpinTable for iPad

Computable (Free Version) ★★★

Platform: iPad
Cost: Free ($9.99 in-app purchase)
+ Sample notebooks contain a lot of information
Higher system requirements for full version

I hope you’re not scared of snakes, because Python is invading your mobile device! Actually, this “snake” won't squeeze the life out of you (unless you find coding to be particularly oppressive, that is). With the full version of the Computable app (available as an in-app purchase), researchers can access the IPython scientific computing environment on the go on their iPads. Computable comes equipped with the SciPy stack of scientific algorithms and functions and a modified keyboard to facilitate typing into IPython notebooks. The free version of the app is a nice Python resource of its own, as it includes a number of sample notebooks composed of modules in aerodynamics and computational fluid dynamics for Python fans to peruse. While the full version of the app (i.e. making your own IPython notebooks) requires at least an iPad 3, the free version and its sample notebooks can be explored on earlier iPad models.

Computable for iPad

Green Solvents ★★

Platform: iPad/iPhone/Android
Cost: Free
+ A good quick reference
Not much information given, chemical names not displayed alongside structures

If you work in a lab, you likely come into contact with a number of chemical solvents on a daily basis. The Green Solvents app by Molecular Materials Informatics provides reference information on the safety and environmental effects of common laboratory solvents. Within the app, solvents are given only by their chemical structure (although the name is displayed upon selection), and each chemical is color-coded from green to brown (albeit very subtly) according to the degree of its disposal/pollution problems. For each solvent, a numerical score ranging from 1 to 10 (1 being benign, 10 being very toxic) in five categories: safety, health, air, water, and waste. While the app may serve as a useful quick reference, the lack of additional information (such as an explanation of the number scheme) is a bit frustrating.

Green Solvents for iPad/iPhone/Android

Want more Best Science Apps? Click here! Also, to suggest an app for Best Science Apps, please send a link to Taralyn Tan ([email protected]).


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