Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Save time and money with these apps, and have a little fun, too.
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
OlyVIA Mobile ★★
+ High-resolution image collection
– Only Olympus customers can upload images
The Olympus Viewer for Imaging Applications (OlyVIA mobile) app will mainly appeal to Olympus customers who have access to the Olympus Net Image Server (NISSQL), as those researchers will be able to upload their own microscopy images to the server and use the OlyVIA Mobile app to view them on the go. Though it may have limited utility to people who do not have access to the Olympus server, the OlyVIA Mobile app is still worth a look, especially for teachers or anyone who may want sample microscopy images for demonstrative purposes. The app contains images of a number of microscopy specimens through the built-in Olympus Image Collections for Europe and the USA, respectively. Within these collections one will find, for example, stained cross-sections of an entire mouse embryo, a mouse brain, an axolotl limb, and a brine shrimp, to name a few.
MyScript Calculator ★★★
+ Good handwriting recognition
– Can be cumbersome to perform multiple calculations
Sure, the standard calculator app that comes already installed on your phone or tablet can perform mathematical calculations, but the MyScript Calculator app can do so by reading your own handwriting. This free app supports all of the basic operations encountered in algebra and geometry, including powers/exponentials, logarithms, and trigonometry expressions. When the app is opened, users are shown a blank screen onto which they can write out mathematical expressions and equations in their own handwriting. This handwriting is then converted to basic text depicting the expression, and an answer is calculated and displayed. The app comes with a brief video tutorial to familiarize new users with the mechanics, and the settings tab includes options such as the number of decimal places to display. Screenshots of your completed calculations can be emailed.
Big Picture Debates the Brain ★★★
+ Teacher resources section
– Few literature citations, limited content
This free app by the Wellcome Trust asks users, “How well do you know your own brain?” Users are then taken through brain-related debates on eight topics: technology, responsibility, violent adolescents, alcohol, love, cannabis, cognitive enhancers, and superiority. For each debate, app users are presented with brief arguments for and against the debate topic, after which point users can cast their vote and see how others have voted. For example, the debate topic related to violent adolescents asks whether violent adolescents should be locked away. The debate pits evidence that tough laws may reduce juvenile crime against the fact that the development of brain areas involved in decision-making is incomplete during adolescence. This app is especially geared toward use in classrooms, and it contains a “Teacher’s Area” section with instructions on how to use the app, ideas for classroom implementation, and links to additional resources.
Insect Collection ★★
+ Nice photographs, quiz feature
– Could add more educational information, a bit expensive
The Insect Collection app taps into the public’s combined curiosity for things creepy and crawly and love of applying artistic filters and silly annotations to photographs. Merging education and whimsy, this app provides photos and informative descriptions for a random assortment of insect species, and also includes a number of photo-editing tools that allow users to make artistic or silly modifications to the insect photos. For instance, in addition to adding color filters to the photographs, users can add cartoon hats and mustaches, speech bubbles, and text. The resulting creations can be saved to the device’s camera roll or emailed. On the educational end, the app includes some good information, although the length and level of detail of the informational blurbs varies among entries. The quiz feature (which asks users to identify the species in the photo using a multiple-choice format) adds another nice educational touch to the app.
Data Collection ★★
+ Clear user interface
– Some glitches with data recording
Did you know that your iPad/iPhone includes a built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer? If you answered “no” to that question, then you are also probably unaware of the Data Collection app, which provides a simple interface for users to play around with all three of those built-in sensors. The user interface lists all three sensors and shows in real-time the values for each (displayed in the x, y, and z directions). A reference diagram is shown to orient the user with respect to the axes. If you want to use the app as a more serious tool, you can hit the “record” button to collect data from the sensors. The resulting data can be emailed as a text file. The full version allows users to record data for as long as they’d like at a user-defined sampling frequency; a free version of the app restricts recording to 10 seconds at a fixed sampling frequency of 10 Hz.
J Programming Language ★★★
+ Good mobile interface
– Insufficient tutorials for total beginner
The J programming language is a high-level programming language that is often adopted for statistical or mathematical data analysis applications. This free app touts itself as an educational tool for anyone, but it may be more attractive as a mobile J interface for programmers who have at least some experience with the language. The interface is simple but not necessarily intuitive for a programming neophyte, and clicking on the “?” button on the bottom of the screen does little to orient you if you’re not at least familiar with some programming syntax. That said, for a student of the language, the app includes a number of example exercises that could serve as useful practice. When used in conjunction with a more formal textbook, the J Programming Language app is definitely a useful and portable study tool, providing a convenient way to practice one’s programming skills without needing to lug around one’s laptop.