|Interview by David Bradley
Scientist's Web Love Benefits Chemists
Mitch André Garcia
Garcia obtained his BS from the University of California, Riverside, in 2003 in Pure and Applied Chemistry, and then moved to Berkeley to study for his PhD. He is now in the research group of Heino Nitsche investigating the chemistry of rutherfordium and alternative target technologies, and previously worked with Peter Vollhardt on the synthesis of triscyclopropabenzene and before that the kinematics of neon-18 decay with Joseph Cerny.
One of Garcia's passions is the exploitation of the internet for the benefit of chemistry and chemists and he runs a group of chemistry websites including http://blog.chemicalforums.com. His latest web creation is a ranking tool—www.chemrank.com—which allows users to submit research papers of interest and for others to vote on their worthiness or otherwise. It is a social bookmarking system for chemists resembling Digg, Reddit, and others, and was created by Garcia during a weekend break from his research thesis.
You're a nuclear chemist, how did you end up down that pipe?
I've been interested in nuclear chemistry since it was first introduced to me as an undergraduate in the last week of freshman chemistry. The whole field seemed so intriguing. Learning that elements can transmutate into other elements was simply fascinating to me; finding out that you could make new elements; that these new elements may yield unknown and unique chemistry. As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a Nuclear Physics course and I also spent a summer doing research with Professor Joseph Cerny at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). With those good experiences under my belt, I felt prepared and enthusiastic enough to do my graduate studies in Nuclear Chemistry at UC Berkeley.
What chemistry are you working on currently?
My thesis revolves around two different topics. The first half will deal with applying a new materials science technique called Polymer-Assisted Deposition (PAD) for preparing metal oxide targets for use in nuclear reactions at heavy-ion accelerators. I am currently writing the paper and have patent-pending on the unique apparatus used. My second project is the investigation of the chemistry of rutherfordium in the gas-phase. Rutherfordium has been shown to readily form rutherfordium(IV) bromide and rutherfordium(IV) chloride in the gas phase. That is about the extent of our knowledge of its chemistry. I plan to expand rutherfordium's known chemistry and investigate it's reactivity with various volatile beta-diketonates and organometallics in the near future.
You seem keen on Web 2.0 type sites, what are the benefits?
My main website, Chemical Forums (www.chemicalforums.com), was initially focused only on helping answer high-school and undergraduate student's questions about chemistry. Having a place where any student on the planet can ask a question and have it answered is a tremendously useful resource. The questions and answers are never deleted and remain as a resource that future students can read through. There are about 10,000 questions and answers easily accessible at the website.
Online communities are social in nature, allowing easy communication and networking that is not achievable in any other way. At Chemical Forums (CF) you can easily interact with colleagues all over the world; the staff at CF is composed of professors, lecturers, graduate students, and hobbyists from USA, Australia, Poland, and England that talk chemistry with each other and our forum members everyday. I find this communication very useful: it allows you to stay on top of what is new in the chemical world, it lets others correct you if you begin to explain a phenomenon incorrectly, and it reinforces one's chemical foundations. Tools are only as beneficial to chemists as they are useful. The more popular tools I've made are: Yahoo pipes for searching and syndicating chemical articles, an MSDS finder, integrating ChemFinder, CemIndex, ChemExper, and EMolecules onto a single page for looking up structural chemical information or vendors.
What might be done to help make more converts to the chemical net?
Converts will come in time. Older chemists tend to be more wary of learning new resources than younger chemists. As the current generation of undergraduate and graduate chemists enter more senior positions, you'll see a reexamination and integration into the chemical net. The only necessity web developers have is to provide the relevant tools and infrastructure for their eventual arrival.
How can chemists find the useful information "out there"?
I created a useful tool using Yahoo Pipes. It behaves like a search engine in that it searches the current chemical literature for any topic, author, or keyword you are interested in. At the moment it works for ACS, Nature, APS, Science, RSC, Springer, and Wiley journals. In addition to the general search feature, the results can be exported in RSS format, and attached to your RSS reader of choice. What this means is that whenever a new article is published by the author you selected or the keyword you choose, it will tell you when the new article is available. Web of Science has a similar tool, but this one doesn't involve any institutional licensing and is free to anyone willing to learn the new technology. All user-created Yahoo Pipes are open source in nature, so other users can tailor the search engine I made for their specific needs.
The ACS, Nature, APS, Science, Springer, and RSC Yahoo Pipe is here and the Wiley Yahoo Pipe here
What are the limitations of this search tool for chemists?
At the moment the search tool doesn't read the body of the research articles, it only reads through the title, author list, and abstract. The limitations of this tool are more associated with the chemical publishers than the tool itself. If publishers would export their search results in RSS format, as does Springer, then you could also have Yahoo Pipes read through the body text of an article.
Isn't there a chance that chemists will ultimately spend all their time in silico and rarely touch glassware?
A complaint or compliment I frequently get from my colleagues is that I already seem to live online. Aside from rogue chemical developers like myself, there will always be room for glassware in a chemist's life in our ever increasing in silico lives.