The Daily Molecule: The Wonders of Chemistry - One Molecule at a Time

May 14, 2008

Chemistry is a big field judged by any standard, including the proliferation of American Chemical Society (ACS) divisions. Each subdiscipline in chemistry is in turn so big, that once a chemist becomes 'differentiated' it's easy to lose touch even with neighboring subdisciplines. It doesn't have to be that way. This article introduces a new service, The Daily Molecule designed to make it just a little bit easier (and hopefully fun) to stay in the chemical loop.

What Is It?

The idea is simple: every weekday, a new molecule will be featured on The Daily Molecule with a short write-up and some leading references. Although molecules in the news will get first priority, any molecule is fair game.

The material for The Daily Molecule will be drawn from Chempedia, which in turn gets some of its content from Wikipedia. In other words, the entries on the Daily Molecule will be largeley written by my fellow chemists.

The process of creating a Daily Molecule entry is not time-consuming, but much of what is being done manually now could be automated in the future. The technology platform lends itself well to many forms of chemistry-specific modification (see below).

I hesitate to use the term 'blog' to describe The Daily Molecule, but the description may be helpful to an extent.

The Daily Molecule is unlike a blog in that most content will be generated by others, selected by some criteria, reformatted for consistency, and published. In that sense, The Daily Molecule is a something like a mini scientific journal, but it turns the process of acquiring content on its head.

If chemistry ever evolves beyond the current model of publication, which seems inevitable at this point, the journals of the future may resemble The Daily Molecule in one or more ways.

Technology

The software running The Daily Molecule is a modified version of SimpleLog, a Web application based on Ruby on Rails. Unlike most blogging engines, SimpleLog focuses on implementing only the most basic publication features, and doing them to perfection. If you know a little Ruby and can work with Rails, you can do a lot with SimpleLog.

One of the first items of business will be to implement reCAPTCHA support and activate comments on articles.

Some ideas for chemically-enabling The Daily Molecule include a graphical abstract sidebar and (sub)structure search. Currently, the 2D chemical structure images posted to The Daily Molecule have complete connection tables embedded as metadata, a feature with some interesting possibilities.

The Molecule of the Day/Week/Month

The basic idea behind The Daily Molecule is not new. Many other services have sprung up over the last ten years that operate, at least on the surface, similarly. Some examples:

Quite a few others don't appear on this list.

The different idea behind the The Daily Molecule is that chemical content already exists in on the Web in machine-readable format with licenses that permit its re-use; all that's needed is a way to aggregate, format, and package that information in a form suitable for once-daily scanning and cheminformatics manipulation.

Conclusions

Like no other medium, the Web blurs artificial distinctions: between work and play; between private and public; between on-topic and off-topic; between fame and obscurity; between mine and yours; between big and small; and between profit and non-profit. Chemistry may be late to the party, but is not immune to its call.