Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Your smartphone’s no better than a paperweight without these.
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
Smart Microscope ★★★
+ Very high-resolution images
– Limited number of specimens
Now this would be a smart addition to your app repertoire… The Smart Microscope app allows users to explore a variety of miniscule biological specimens via their iPads or iPhones. The microscopic slides to be viewed are divided into six categories: featured, humans/mammals, insects/spiders, other animals, plants/fungi, and single-celled organisms. The specimen images themselves are very high-resolution, allowing one to really get close with one’s “microscope” and observe the fine details of the hind leg of a bee or the body of a bed bug. Some of the slides take a moment to load, but the delay is not bad given the resolution of the images. Each slide is annotated with pins (that can be toggled on/off) that, upon clicking, display brief descriptions of the body part or feature to which the pin was pointing.
+ Easy to use, map loads quickly
For all you bird lovers and bird watchers out there, the MyNaturalist app could be a pretty nifty addition to your iPad or iPhone. Using GPS, the app identifies your location and displays with pin icons all of the bird sightings that have been reported in your proximity. (Of course this means that if you have an iPad you must have a cellular plan or have access to a Wi-Fi network, which may be hard to come by when you’re out searching for birds. However, if you a unable to use the GPS, there is a manual positioning option.) Tapping on a pin displays the species that was sighted, along with additional information such as the scientific and common names, conservation status, and details about the date and location of the sighting. Importantly, the app doesn’t merely serve to let you view the sighting specifics of others, it also allows you to track your own sightings.
iMicrobiology HD ★★
+ Includes a lot of information, good visual aid
– Flawed zoom mechanics, too expensive
We are all taught sometime during our early education to use flowcharts or other brainstorming diagrams to organize our thoughts. The iMicrobiology HD app employs this chart-making strategy to provide study guides for microbiology students trying to remember, say, which viruses are single-stranded versus double-stranded RNA viruses. From the “maps” button on the home screen, users can explore the relationships among different types of viruses, bacteria, or parasites. In general, users can select a given node of the map to either display or hide the subsequent nodes (although the more general “summary” maps don’t offer this option). While a useful visual study aid, the maps are too large to be viewed in their entirety on the iPad screen and the zoom mechanics are a bit flawed.
GE Cell Gallery ★★★
+ Great collection of beautiful biological images
– Navigation through the museum is cumbersome
Visit your local art museum and you won’t exactly find images of fluorescently stained cells. But that’s exactly what is housed in this virtual museum, the Cell Gallery App by GE Healthcare Life Sciences. The app is designed to allow visitors to actually navigate through the “museum” in order to admire past winners of the GE Cell Image Competition. Unfortunately, the navigational controls are a bit awkward—for instance, there are separate buttons on opposite sides of the screen for moving forward and for turning to face the artwork. If you find the navigation too frustrating, there is luckily a “flipbook” option that allows you to simply browse the images in a slideshow format. In that mode, users can also browse by categories such as cancer and toxicology. In either the museum or flipbook mode, users can display more information about each piece of “artwork” by tapping on the image.
BioLegend Flow Cytometry App ★★★
+ Many different resources
– Need an Internet connection for much of app
If you’re in the business of analyzing or sorting fluorescently labeled cells, the BioLegend Flow Cytometry App is right up your alley. This app provides a number of great resources for researchers who use flow cytometry, with an emphasis on designing and optimizing experiments in which multiple fluorophores are used. The resources include a page on fluorophores in which users can show all fluorophores for a given excitation laser, a fluorescence spectra analyzer, and a fluorophores brightness index. There are also sections for flow cytometry troubleshooting, flow cytometry buffers, and video tutorials. Unfortunately, much of the app relies on redirecting visitors to the relevant sections on the company’s website; therefore, one must have internet access (or a cellular data plan) in order to use the app.
3D Neuron Anatomy ★★
+ Nice rotatable 3D model, a fair amount of information provided
– Can’t pinch-and-zoom, should be a free app
One of a series of medical human anatomy apps, 3D Neuron Anatomy is a rather straightforward, although informative, app. Not to be confused with neuroanatomy—which would provide information about the positions of brain structures relative to one another—this neuron anatomy app informs students about the basic anatomical features of the neuron itself. The central feature of the app is the 3D, rotatable model of a neuron. As the app user clicks on pins associated with different parts of the cell, information about that cellular feature is displayed. While rotating the neuron is effortless, the zoom feature is cumbersome in that one cannot simply pinch-and-zoom. Overall the app should probably be offered at no charge given its limited content, but at the same time $0.99 is only a fraction of the cost of one’s morning coffee…