Chemistry on the Web

June 1 2009 - finding information - updated June 5

News on the search engine front. First up is the brand new search engine from the Wolfram Mathematica people called Wolfram Alpha and widely recognized as the nerdiest of all search engines (question: meaning of life? answer 42!). A simple query for ethanol does not yield a long list of websites that have something to do with ethanol but all relevant data on ethanol such as boiling point, formula , 3D structure , safety data and a complete phase diagram. Entering C4H8 returns all 4 isomers, it knows how to handle a cup of sugar or 100 grams of sodium hydroxide. On the other hand dodecahedrane is is not recognized as a molecule but only as the geometrical shape. Listed in the literature inventory are the CRC handbook and the Aldrich catalogue. Not to be outdone, Google has announced a similar service called Google Public Data and started of Google Squared in a rush job. Typing in organic reaction produces an odd table with material pilfered from Wikipedia.

In the mean while Microsoft's answer to Google Bing has the distinctive advantage that the search results are not that cluttered with restricted-access pages (especially those from scientific publishers) but still many exist. Other than that, it appears to be yet another search engine.

Chemical data aggregator Chemspider is now part of the Royal Society of Chemistry according to this press release which makes it the British counterpart of CAS maintained by the American Chemical Society.

CAS and Wikipedia announced a collaboration last month culminating in This Website has information of over 7000 common chemicals stored in CAS and a link to the relevant page in Wikipedia. The CAS contribution to this project is rather disappointing and limited to CAS registry numbers and synonyms. CAS is sitting on a huge amount of (expensive!) data, not just data on chemicals but also data on chemical reactions and could have been more generous in sharing for free. What about a ranking of all known solvents? or how about breaking up all known chemical compounds in the type of bond formed?. The Wolfram guys for sure would have been more inventive.

The buzzy month of May also saw the introduction of another common chemistry initiative at, a brainchild of thechemblog. This wiki aims to become the online depository for basic chemistry technique such as packing a column, distilling a compound or properly quenching a reaction (howto's Wikipedia is staying away from), no doubt with an enthusiastic following of those people involved in the manufacture of illicit drugs.

As stated in an earlier blog here there is no shortage of initiatives collecting and reorganizing Internet content or initiatives inviting people to generate content. The bottleneck appears to be finding these people who are willing to do the actual work and generate original content. A lot of so-called content generation is more like the information regurgitated and forced into machines from the 1989 Ministry song this blog takes its name from.