Taralyn Tan Ph.D. Curriculum Fellow Harvard Medical
Clear some space on your smartphone—you’ll need it for these six 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
VSB Chemistry ★★★
+ Stunning periodic table interface
– Must watch lessons sequentially, lags when opening periodic table
The Virtual Smart Books (VSB) Chemistry provides an interactive periodic table and six accompanying lessons that cover topics such as the atom, chemical equations, and chemical reactions. I must say, I’ve played around with many periodic table apps, and this one has one of the coolest interfaces I’ve seen. Upon the user tapping on an element, the screen zooms into that element in a 3D-view of the periodic table. Above the table itself an animated representation of the given element appears. The basic information (atomic radius, atomic weight, etc.) is automatically displayed, although users can select the “fun facts” tab in order to display additional information about the element’s physical properties, occurrence in nature, and common uses. The accompanying lessons are informative, but it is annoying that one must watch a video in its entirety before being granted access to the subsequent lesson.
NOVA Elements ★★★★
+ Beautiful design
The NOVA Elements app, and accompanying app to the “Hunting the Elements” show that aired on PBS, goes beyond simply offering access to chapters of the show on-the-go. In addition to being able to watch “Hunting the Elements,” users get to explore the interactive periodic table and play the “essential elements” game that are both included in the app. With regards to the periodic table, it is nicely designed and provides an image (as well as a description) of each element upon selection. The game has users construct (from the atomic and subatomic levels) the major molecules that comprise some common items, such as bananas, DNA, and coffee. Overall the app is beautiful to look at and includes a great deal of educational information.
Genius Scan – PDF Scanner ★★★
+ Easy to use
– Export features limited in free version
The cameras on iPhones and iPads provide a means to record and capture information on the go, but they by themselves do not traffic the captured information in the most common document currency, the PDF. That’s where the Genius Scan app comes in. By either taking a photo from within the app or uploading a photo from the camera roll, users can export the images as PDFs via email or fax. (In the non-free version of the app, export options also include Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive, among others.) Users can rotate the images within the app and can also tag them, providing a convenient means to organize the various images/documents. Whether you want to “scan” pages of a journal article you want to send along to a colleague or catalog your experimental protocol sheets, Genius Scan is a convenient route to go.
Nature of Code ★★★
+ Most simulations are interactive (respond to user input)
– More detailed descriptions of the phenomena would be useful
Daniel Shiffman’s book entitled The Nature of Code discusses how the open source programming language Processing can be used to create computer simulations of natural systems. Keeping with the open source spirit, the entire text of the book is freely available at the book’s website (natureofcode.com). If you’re not feeling up to reading the entire book, the accompanying app for the iPad/iPhone is a great introduction to some of the mathematical concepts and systems found in the natural world. The app includes interactive simulations of these concepts/systems, which are organized into eight categories: randomness, vectors and forces, oscillation, particle systems, triangulation, hair, evolution, and steering. Example simulations include one in which users watch as a tank full of “beings” procreate when they touch (an example of evolution), as well as a simulation of wave addition in which users can drag their fingers to change the amplitude and frequency of one of the waves
Lab Counter ★★
+ Can specify number of counters, names
– Cumbersome editing process, no “clear all” feature
The Lab Counter app is a generic counter app that does not restrict users to a set number of counters corresponding to pre-defined categories such as “live” and “dead” cells. Rather, when users create new experiments within the app, they can specify as many counters as they’d like per sample. These counters, in turn, can be named according to the user’s specifications. (Unfortunately, the editing process is a bit cumbersome. Rather than simply being able to tap on a text field to edit its contents, users must select the “edit” button. This gives a much more “computer,” rather than “iPhone,” feel to the app.) The counter “buttons” give the appearance of depression when you touch them and also “ding” upon being tapped, thereby providing visual and audio feedback that the counter is working. The final counters and numbers can be emailed as plain text.
+ Adjustable grid size, cumulative and individual counters
– New grid appears each time you open image
For all you cell-counters out there, the MiCellCount app by Scientific Device Laboratory may be a useful addition to your lab-app repertoire. The app allows users to import a photo of cells from their camera roll (or users can take a photo directly from within the app). Users can subsequently use the gridded image to count cells simply by tapping on individual squares of the grid. Individual counters corresponding to each square increase by one each time you tap; additionally, a cumulative counter appears at the bottom of the screen. You can change the color of the grid (or not show it at all), and can use pinch-and-zoom finger maneuvers to change the size of the grid squares. The marked-up image can be saved to the camera roll—although be careful, once you save it to the camera roll you can’t open again to continue counting without a second grid appearing onto the image.