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
Chemical Engineering AppSuite HD ★★★★
+ Many calculators and reference sheets, lots of information
To say that there is a lot of information contained within the Chemical Engineering AppSuite HD app would be an understatement. The app, which was developed by a team of chemical engineers, provides a number of calculators, reference sheets, and chemical information that is useful to both engineers and students. To highlight just a few of the many sections of the app, there are 38 conversion calculators that cover not just units like mass and temperature, but also electric conductivity, kinematic viscosity, and specific heat capacity, among others. The math and spreadsheets section of the app includes very nice linear equation, matrix, and polynomial solvers, and the compounds section includes an encyclopedic list of chemical compounds and their properties. There is, of course, information provided for each of the chemical elements, as well as additional information in other sections of the app.
The Chemical Touch ★★★★
+ Lots of information for elements, color coding options
At first glance the Periodic Table of The Chemical Touch app looks just like any other Periodic Table…and perhaps not even as impressive, since tapping on an element displays just the atomic number and atomic mass. However, there is much more to this Periodic Table than meets the eye. For example, after tapping on a particular element, selecting an icon on the left side of the screen will display quite a bit of information for that element. There is so much information, in fact, that it is divided into five categories: general properties, ionization energies, isotopes, x-ray absorption/emission, and reduction potentials. Furthermore, users can change the color-coding of the Periodic Table to reflect properties such as density, boiling point, or electronegativity. In addition to the Periodic Table, the app also includes an amino acid table and a codon table.
Human Genome ★★★
+ Nice interface, good tutorial
– Only superficial exploration of genome
The Human Genome app is a beautifully designed app that allows users to easily explore the human genome, as visualized by chromosome. In this chromosome overview, users can browse by trait or by gene. Users can select up to four traits or genes (including a combination of both traits and genes) to be displayed on the chromosome map, with each trait/gene displayed in a different color. Tapping on one of the marked chromosomes brings up an enlarged view with the name of the labeled gene. Additional information about the gene can be found by selecting the name, as this opens an in-app browser window to NCBI. While it would be nice if this app allowed users to actually zoom in to specific loci to view additional genomic features, the app does have a beautiful interface and provides a nice bird’s-eye view of the genome.
Genetics and Evolution ★★★
+ Good calculators and simulators
– No background material provided
Developed for an introductory genetics course at Duke University, the Genetics and Evolution app is a nice educational resource for new students of the subject. The app is composed of four sections. Within the “problem central” students will find four genetic calculators (for Hardy Weinberg problems, genetic cross mapping, population growth, and breeder’s equation heritability problems), as well as practice problem generators for each of these four types of calculations. Students are able to observe the results from different types of genetic crosses in the cross simulator and can follow the frequency of alleles over time using the “allele freak” simulator. Finally, the app includes a self-test quiz section. Although the app does not actually provide any educational background to the various calculations or topics, this could be a useful companion to any genetics course.
TB Mobile ★★
+ Many ways to sort/display compounds
– Most information from outside links, requires internet connection
While “Tuberculosis Mobile” doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of thing you’d want to carry around with you, I assure you that this app is quite safe. TB Mobile allows researchers to explore a set of molecules that have been identified as being active against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. From the collection of chemical structures displayed on the home screen of the app, users can filter the display based on essentiality of the compounds or the existence of a human homolog. Alternatively, the chemicals can be filtered by gene target or affected pathway. Upon selecting a given compound, app users can access more information about it via links to online resources such as the TB Database and PubMed. (Thus, the app requires users to have an internet connection or data plan.)
+ Experiment simulations, quizzes
– Glitchy games, poor navigation through pages
It’s always fun to find games that serve an educational purpose. (I mean, if you’re going to be fiddling with your tablet or phone, you might as well be learning something, right?) Enzymatic is an iPad/iPhone app that is composed of games, experiment simulations, and quizzes that teach app users about enzymes—what they are, what they do, and how the are sensitive to environmental factors. Two games, which play off concepts of reaction type and enzyme specificity, are actually the weakest part of the app, as the graphics are somewhat poor and the user controls are not very responsive. The rest of the app, including an experiment simulation that lets users observe the effects of temperature, pH, and substrate concentration on enzymatic activity, as well as the various quizzes, is less glitchy.