Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Summer’s here, and the time is right for new time-saving apps.
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!
Four stars: Excellent
Three stars: Very Good
Two stars: Good
+ Strong points
– Weak points
+ Large number of calculators
– No educational background provided
Statistical analyses are crucial to the interpretation of scientific data. The StatsMate app provides a number of statistical calculators to facilitate data analysis and to serve as an interactive means to explore basic principles of statistics. The user guide outlines the capabilities of the app and explains how to navigate each of the sections of the app. The user guide does not provide any background or educational material related to the various statistical analyses, though, so one must already be somewhat familiar with basic statistical concepts. The app contains 17 probability distribution calculators and nine hypothesis testing calculators, in addition to its data analysis features (including basic data analysis, linear regression, one-way ANOVAs, and randomized block design). Datasets created within the app can be exported as a PDF file, an Excel spreadsheet, a text file, or a CSV file.
Mild EleMints ★★★★
+ Customizable display, lots of information
– The meaning of some pictorial symbols not intuitive
Assuming they can overlook the intentional misspelling of “elements,” students and scientists alike will enjoy the Mild EleMints periodic table app. This free app provides a stylistic and informative periodic table complete with customizable display options. For example, users can choose to display the elements (color-coded) by one of fifteen different parameters, including traditional classification (e.g. alkali metal versus noble gas), physical state, density, and covalent radius. For each of the temperature-dependent values (such as physical state), the table includes a sliding temperature bar that allows users to observe (via color changes in the table) how the elements change across temperatures. Beyond these gross manipulations of the entire table, the periodic table is also interactive in the sense that selecting an element displays a wealth of information for that element in a side tab. This information includes specific values related to the element’s classification, atomic properties, thermodynamic properties, ionic radii, ionization energies, binding energies and isotopes.
inPractice Oncology ★★★★
+ Large collection of information authored by experts
– Cannot open PubMed from within app
In the inPractice Oncology iPad app, health professionals in the fields of oncology and hematology will find a complete textbook of information related to treating patients with cancer. The content is broadly divided into thirteen sections including breast cancer, lung cancer, sarcomas, hematologic malignancies, supportive care, and general oncology topics. Each topic is itself comprised of a number of individual chapters, each of which is authored by experts in the field and reviewed/updated regularly. (The date of the most recent review is given at the top of each chapter.) Links to the PubMed abstracts for literature cited are given within the text, although unfortunately one is unable to actually link to the PubMed website from within the app. Users can bookmark individual pages within the app, and can also email links to specific pages of the textbook.
Chemistry – Molar Mass ★★
+ Displays molar mass on element-by-element basis
– Must enter formulas, not molecule names
Like so many of the chemistry calculator apps out there, this molar mass calculator delivers on exactly what was promised…and not much else. However, sometimes simplicity can go a long way and in that regard, students or research scientists who are in the market for a very straightforward app to calculate molar mass will be delighted by this app’s ease of use and clean design. Users must enter the chemical formula for the compound of interest, which does limit the utility of this app in instances when one knows the name of the compound, but not the molecular formula. There is a small dropdown menu of chemical names from which to choose, but the list is very restricted and unlikely to be of much use. Upon entering a chemical formula, the app calculates and displays the molar mass on an element-by-element basis; it is in this way that the app has an advantage over other molar mass calculators, which typical just display the total molar mass.
+ Mock server with sample data
– No descriptions of analysis metrics
We are officially in the age of large genetic sequencing projects—whole transcriptomes, even whole genomes, are now routinely sequenced for various research studies. Illumina’s sequencers are commonly employed for such studies, and now researchers who use Illumina machines (specifically the HiSeq 2000 sequencing system) can remotely monitor their sequencing runs in real-time via the SeqMonitor iPhone/iPad app (when used in conjunction with the freely available SeqMonitor Web Service). Even if you are not yet using a HiSeq 2000 system—and therefore do not have any of your own data to analyze—the app includes a “mock server” with sample data for users to visualize. Here, users can visualize metrics such as alignment and error rates, quality scores, and data densities and intensities. There is no description of these different metrics in the app; as such, one must be familiar with the basics of sequencing data analysis.
Atoms in Motion, Student Ed. ★★★
+ Good educational section, simulation works well
– Free version includes only neon atoms
Some educational concepts, such as the movement and interactions of atoms, are best explained by visual illustration. That is exactly the goal of the Atoms in Motion app: to provide students an intuitive understanding of the relationships among atomic interactions and kinematics, temperature, and pressure. The primary component of the app is an interactive molecular simulation wherein users can add or subtract atoms, change the temperature or pressure of the system, or introduce kinetic energy. In the free student edition of the app, users can only use neon atoms in their simulation; in the full version (available for a small fee), that repertoire is expanded to include helium, argon, krypton, and xenon atoms. Beyond the simulation, the app also comes with a nice educational section that provides background on atomic theory, gas laws, ions and salts, and molecular dynamics simulations.