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SciFinder Review: Chemistry/Biology References and More

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 4:31pm
John A. Wass, Ph.D.

A very efficient and extraordinarily useful tool for chemical and biological projectsA very efficient and extraordinarily useful tool for chemical and biological projects

This month’s review is a bit off of the usual track, e.g. statistical, mathematical and genomics software. However, it does include much pertinent information for chemists, chemical engineers and biologists. SciFinder is a search engine for chemistry and biology references for just about anything that can be accurately described in the search feature. It also includes information concerning reagents, reaction mechanisms, sources of materials, chemical structures, molecular formulas and more. The applications include research, business patent searches, and industrial manufacturing. The databases are updated daily. From several searches, I had found that the software concentrates on the chemical areas, as a biological search will turn up excellent reference lists but not too much else. I should qualify that with the addendum of “…not too much else of interest to me.” There are added materials and several areas of information on which the software will expand regarding biological questions.

Notice the three buttons in the light blue box above “References”: “Explore,” “Saved Searches” and ‘Sci-Planner.”In the research arena, you may query SciFinder to answer the following types of questions:

  • Where can I find property information?
  • How can I make it?
  • Is there patent protection?
  • Are there regulatory restrictions?
  • Where can I get the reagents?
  • Collaborators and competitors?
  • How do I keep abreast of developments?

If we put a checkmark in the first box, the listing of the 118 articles containing the core concept “Synthesis of Laminin” appearsThe experimental and predicted properties give a nice background on characterizing a substance, and the experimental procedure output allows the chemist to discover the most efficient schemes for synthesis. As per usual for these reviews, let’s take a walk through a specific example…

As much as I would prefer an example from basic research in the life sciences, ScjFinder is so well-suited to applied projects in the chemical sciences that this seems like a better venue. OK, let’s look at a specific example. The main search screen is simplicity itself. Merely type in the topic of interest and hit <Search> (here we leave the accuracy and conciseness of the phraseology to the user, but the software is rather intelligent itself). Our example will be Laminin synthesis and production, and we are interested in ancillary business-related material. We begin by typing <Synthesis of Laminin> in the blank box and, upon hitting <Search>, the information in Figure 2 is very quickly returned.

You also will notice that there is an extremely useful toolbar at the topNotice the three buttons in the light blue box above “References”: “Explore,” “Saved Searches” and ‘Sci-Planner.” The first offers access to important information about patents, structures, molecular formulas, physical/chemical properties and more. The second will save the results of any search, and the last button will help arrange information from disparate searches into a reference area pertaining to the major search request.

Under the “Get Substances” header, we can access a remarkably useful dialog box that lists a host of important information options for all of the references or any subset of them selectedSo, already we have access to 118 articles that contain “Synthesis of Laminin” and 2574 articles that have “Laminin” and “Synthesis” closely associated with one another. There are many more articles containing the concepts separately, as Laminin is a very important biological molecule and extensively used in cell culture as a substratum. Now, if we put a checkmark in the first box, the listing of the 118 articles containing the core concept “Synthesis of Laminin” appears (Figure 3).

We then put a check in the box for the fourth reference “Sonic hedgehog-dependent synthesis of laminin α1 controls basement membrane assembly in the myotome,” click the full text icon, and in a very short time receive abstracts, summaries, or a full text of the article. You also will notice in Figure 4 that there is an extremely useful toolbar at the top which includes a button to activate alerts of new information on the topic of interest (not shown).

With the “Get Reactions” button, we can extract pertinent chemical reactions from the selected papersUnder the Reference Section, there are areas to conduct an advanced search by narrowing the choices according to a number of categories (author, CAS registry number, Journal, Database, Language, Dates, etcetera).

Under the “Get Substances” header, we can access a remarkably useful dialog box that lists a host of important information options for all of the references or any subset of them selected (Figure 5).

With the “Get Reactions” button, we can extract pertinent chemical reactions from the selected papersWith the “Get Reactions” button, we can extract pertinent chemical reactions from the selected papers (Figures 6 and 7).

Other buttons assist in the acquisition of related citations, get the full text of any selected article, and a Tool option to tag references and remove any duplicates from the reference list.

So, it appears that SciFinder is a complete package to efficiently manage a project in chemistry/biology by providing exact details and more than sufficient background material to perform, compare, validate and document complex scientific projects. The software is very easy-to-use, and I never consulted the help section for problems (I didn’t trip over any during my cursory investigations). If help is needed, users may e-mail the support group, attend free webinars, or register for instructor-led classes.
If I found any shortcomings in the software, it may be trivial to a chemist or just my ignorance of advanced techniques. In that vein, I have the following suggestions for the developers:

  • When asking for structural information, the software will not provide it. The structure may either be imported or drawn with a provided drawing tool.
  • When asking for properties, they seemingly may only be selected one at a time. There appears to be no option to get all at once in a convenient tabular form.

Phrasing of the search query is very important. The differences that I got between “Laminin Synthesis” and “Synthesis of Laminin” were large.
This software is extremely useful for chemical and biological projects. If your institution/employer can budget for it, you will find SciFinder a very efficient and extraordinarily useful tool.

Availability
$2,600/yr (entry level pricing; call or email for further information)

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS)
P.O. Box 3012
Columbus, OH 43210-0012
1-800-753-4227 (North America)
+1-614-447-3700 (outside North America)
Fax: 1-614-447-3751
www.cas.org; e-mail: help@cas.org

John Wass is a statistician based in Chicago, IL. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.

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