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Book Recommendations

The Portable Chemist’s Consultant

I wanted to mention a project of Prof. Phil Baran of Scripps and his co-authors, Yoshihiro Ishihara and Ana Montero. It’s called the Portable Chemist’s Consultant, and it’s available for iPads here. And here’s a web-based look at its features. Baran was good enough to send me an evaluation copy, so I’ve had a chance to look through it in detail.
It’s clearly based on his course in heterocyclic chemistry, and the chapters on pyridines and other heterocycles read like very well-thought-out review articles. But they also take advantage of the iPad’s interface, in that specific transformations are shown in detail (with color and animation), and each of these can be expanded to a wider presentation and a thorough list of references (which are linked in their turn). The “Consumer Reports” style tables of recommended synthetic methods at the end of each section seem very useful, too, although they might need some notation for how much experimental support there is for each combination. For an overview of these topics, though, I doubt if anyone could do this better; I became a more literate heterocyclic chemist just by flipping through things. (Here’s a video clip of some of these features in action).
So, do I have any reservations? A few. One of the bigger ones (which I’m told that Baran and his team are addressing) might sound trivial: I’m not sure about the title. As it stands, “The Portable Heterocyclic Chemistry Consultant” would be a much more accurate one, because there are large swaths of chemistry that fall within its current subtitle (“A Survival Guide for Discovery, Process, and Radiolabeling”) which are not even touched on. For example, scale-up chemistry is mentioned on the cover, but in the current version of the book I didn’t really see anything that was of particular relevance to actual scale-up work (things like the feasibility of solvent switching, heat transfer effects and reaction thermodynamics, run-to-run variability and potential purification methods, reagent sourcing, etc.) For medicinal chemists, I can say that the focus is completely on just the synthetic organic end of things; there’s nothing on the behavior of any of the heterocyclic systems in vivo (pharmacokinetic trends, routes of metabolism, known toxicity problems, and so on). There’s also nothing on spectral characterization, or any analytical chemistry of any sort, and I found no mention of radiolabeling (although I’d be glad to be corrected on that).
So for these reasons, it’s a very academic work, but a very good one of its type. And Prof. Baran tells me that it’s being revised constantly (at no charge to previous purchasers), and that these sorts of topics are in the works for later versions. If this book is indeed one of those gifts that keeps on giving, then it’s a bargain as it stands, but (at the same time) I think that potential buyers should be aware of what they’re getting in the current version.
My second reservation is technological. The book is only available on the iPad, and I’m not completely sure that this is a good idea. There’s no way that it could be as useful in print, but a web-based interface would still be fine. (Managing ownership and sales is a lot easier in Apple’s ecosystem, to be sure). And I’m not sure how many organic chemists own iPads yet. Baran himself seemed a bit surprised when he found out that I don’t own one myself (I borrowed a colleague’s to have a look). The most common reaction I’ve had when I tell people about the “PCC” is to say that they don’t own an iPad, either, and to ask if there’s any other way they can read it. Another problem is that the people that do have iPads certainly don’t take them to the lab bench, which is where a work like this would be most useful. On the other hand, plain old computers are ubiquitous at the bench, thanks to electronic lab notebooks and the like.
All this said, though, if you do own an iPad and need to know about heterocyclic chemistry, you should have a look at this work immediately. If not, well, it’s well worth keeping an eye on – these are early days.

15 comments on “The Portable Chemist’s Consultant”

  1. Henry's cat says:

    Sounds pretty good, but as already mentioned, most synthetic chemists are too poor and/or discerning to own ipads. How about an android version?
    Back-off fanboys…

  2. N says:

    I would also be interested to hear if they’re working on an android version.

  3. RD says:

    I used my iPad in the lab constantly during my last year of work for doing calculations, working out dilutions, getting papers and procedures and taking notes. The last bit was great because I just typed in all of my notes as I went and emailed them to myself for including in reports and to transcribe into my notebook.
    The best thing was that even if I typed in gloves, the ipad cleaned up nicely. I’m surprised that everybody doesn’t use them.

  4. Anonalso says:

    We use iPads all the time at my place of employment. Dropbox to move things quickly around from project folders, etc.
    I am surprised this has not been done before. I have seen a pKa and NMR impurities app for the iphone, but apps like this would be a great addition.

  5. John Wayne says:

    I use Apple computers at my current company, and I have to say that it is not a good choice for most industrial chemists. Mac products work very well within their own world, but get a failing grade when asked to run third party software and be able to communicate with other nonMac computers. Don’t even get me started on the Scifinder/Java issues; that cost me even more time yesterday. Based on this experience, I have no plans to add Macintosh computers in my own home. Heck, even my iPhone has been disappointing.

  6. RB Woodweird says:

    John Wayne – you have had the ability to run Windows on the Intel Macs for some time now. Many users say that the best Windows PC is now a Mac.

  7. Nekekami says:

    I use the Samsung Galaxy Note. The best capacitive touch screen I’ve ever tried, almost comparable to resistive touch screens in terms of sensitivity and resolution. Works really well with a stylus, which allows for far more detailed writing and sketching, such as jotting down notes and formulas and drawing up schematics etc. Only way it could be better is if it was switched to a resistive touch screen.
    It also helps that the Note series of tablets and phones have an Android version that also lets you run apps that support it in multi-view, i.e side by side if the device is stock. If you root it, you can tweak it to force-run any app in multi-view.

  8. z says:

    I would also prefer a web-based version that worked across various computers and devices. If that’s not feasible, how about an Android version? I would absolutely buy this if I could, but I don’t have an iPad and I’m not planning to get one.

  9. “Managing ownership and sales is a lot easier in Apple’s ecosystem, to be sure” – Exactly. Does anybody know of another way to sell an electronic book that has graphics? There are secure PDF servers, but that is an enterprise-level solution that individuals wouldn’t want to deal with. Some publishers have their own idiosyncratic PDF-style methods. Who knows how long they will last? The iPad platform is a good bet, because Apple will want to expand the reader base, and they have a better chance of leading the market than others – though Adobe could challenge them if independent authors could publish secure PDFs. Angewante is already on iPad too BTW.

  10. rtw says:

    I would like a Native Blackberry Playbook version thank you, but would be happy with Android if it could be written to be acceptable to the Playbook’s Android engine. Seriously though people would be willing to contaminate their personal electronics and take them home? Nice thing about the Rim Playbook, it fits perfectly inside a 1Qt Ziplock bag, and the touch screen works fine in the bag. Throw away the bag when leaving the lab. Safer that way! But I agree not a lot of chemistry useful tablet/phone apps available anywhere.

  11. another process chemist says:

    I agree with #6 (Woodweird). My MacBook Pro (purchased used off Craigslist as I could never afford a new one) boots into Windows 7 95% of the time. It really is a nice way to go, especially since MacBooks still use a 16:10 aspect ratio for the display (nicely set up for getting work done) as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio used on all PC laptops these days (nicely set up for watching movies).

  12. chem says:

    In the same vein the carreira lab has developed an app called reaction flash in collaboration with reaxys-useful for learning name reactions

  13. FP says:

    Where can i get a portable chemist?

  14. Henry's cat says:

    Unfortunately it’s our jobs that are more portable than us….

  15. Morten G says:

    I have an iPad. I’m seriously considering getting rid of it for an Android tablet instead. I usually reach for my phone (Nexus 4) rather than my tablet simply because input is so much faster than in iOS.
    I also want a lighter tablet. There’s a big difference between 300 and 600 grams. So probably the next version of the Nexus 7 that’s coming in July with a high resolution screen. Now I sound like a Google sales person. Great.

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