How do you handle the vastness of literature in chemistry and biology that is published on a daily basis…not to mention the last century’s worth of chemical reactions? Here I introduce 5 well developed tools to help you stay on top of the literature so you can brainstorm that next big idea.


Welcome to Part 2 of tools for the new organic chemist

Gone are the days of going to the science and engineering library to look through the stacks of journal articles, hopeful you can find what you need. Must times we can avoid this because of the powerful tools that have been developed on the web.

Some of these you may have heard of, but are you making the most out of them? Let’s find out.


If you have been doing any organic synthesis you have probably been turned on to SciFinder. This tool is the go to for reaction conditions (among other things) for every chemist in academia and industry.

Recently alumni in big pharma told us that when proposinga reaction schemes they use SciFinder to justify their approach. Which makes sense. Biotech companies can’t afford to play with new conditions or “fancy” reactions to get their product. That costs time and isn’t efficient. So if you aren’t a master at SciFinder, I suggest you correct that.

Some key features:

  1. Chemical structure/reaction lookup
  2. Commercial availability of reagents in reactions
  3. Keep Me Posted-keyword searches notify you of new publications when you need them.
  4. SciPlanner-save your searches and put together a full scheme with links to where to buy reagents.
  5. Links directly to the paper where the reaction came from.
  6. ChemDraw now has a SciFinder toolbar and will open a search window. Very handy.

Reaxys is another huge chemical database with similar functionalities to SciFinder. Access depends on your institution. Mine does not have a subscription, so I default to SciFinder.


What I discuss here applies also to most individual journals and SciFinder.

Image  credit: D. Samuel Gottesman Library

As you can see above, there are many different search options and filters on My NCBI. This is a means for you to search the literature, save those papers/searches, and setup a reoccurring keyword alert.

The real power of this is that you don’t have to be thinking about “Gee, when did I last look to see what is new with nanoparticle targeted delivery?”

I have a range of selected keywords ranging from specific to broad to author names. Then NCBI will email me an alert when something is new when I want them to. So, every Monday morning I get updated on last week’s articles that I might have missed.


What do you do while on the toilet? Watch YouTube? Peruse Facebook? Personally, I glance through the current literature in just a few minutes using Feedly.


Feedly screenshot from my phone with today’s articles.

Feedly is a free app where you can organize all your RSS feeds into one place. It’s easy to add a journal or follow a blog. Then it will keep track of what is new by category. You can click on the thumbnail picture if the title interests you, some have abstracts, then click the link to go to the article, and when you are done with a journal it asks you to “mark all as read”. Then you move on to the next journal.

I was turned on this app by my Mechanisms course professor and it has really shortened the time I need to take on scanning the current literature within and outside of my field.

If you setup VPN on your phone you can instantly get access to the article through Feedly from anywhere.


Whether you want to be a professor or go into industry it is important to keep up with what is going on in the biotech and pharma world. More than ever are academia and industry finding themselves collaborating on projects and sharing funding for PhD students either as interns for a summer or on a project. Plus it helps to know where your field is going from both the academic and industry point of view.

Enter Fiercebiotech, your daily “snap shot” of all the major happenings in the biotech community.

This is an excellent site to read through at the start of the day. Find out who is merging with who, what that means for future projects, new startups in your field, who is who, and really get a feel for the science going on in industry.

By no means is Fiercebiotech the end all for biotech news. So if you find yourself wanting more start following biotech journalists on Twitter.


One key resource missing in the Advanced practical Organic Chemistry book I reviewed last time is Twitter as a resource for networking (which will be discussed in a future post), following biotech news, and importantly finding out about new articles in your field AND then interacting with the authors/editors of those papers.

This is a resource that has only become mainstream in chemistry in the past few years (possibly longer and I was just unaware at the time).

So where to begin and how to get started making Twitter work for you?

Begin by following me (if you want) and look at who I follow. Then follow them. Look at who they follow. And so on…

Other accounts to start with are John Carroll of Endpoints News, Derek Lowe of In The Pipeline (I really recommend back reading all of his posts), and RealTimeChem for reposts of all Twitter posts with #RealTimeChem. From here you will have no problem finding accounts of interest to you.

Next go find all of the journals and professional organizations (like ACS) in your field and follow them. Then do the same with some biotech companies that interest you.

Now start interacting, reading, and reposting.

Final notes:

Check out this article from Nature’s Toolbox collection on how to tame the flood of literature.

You might be wondering how to organize and store the plethora of articles you have been finding using these tools. Well, that will be the subject of Part 3 of tools for the new organic chemist, so stay tuned.


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