A sampling of cool online tools for scientists

Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), like the one circled here, allow the reader to find the paper without combing through the journal’s website. Services like CrossRef making using DOIs easy.

The internet is an amazing place. For scientists in particular, there is no shortage of online tools that make our lives and work more convenient. In my daily work flow, I use Google Reader to browse the literature, Google Scholar and SciFinder to search for specific papers, and Google Calendar to sign out instrument time (I swear this is not a paid advertisement for Google).

If you’re wondering how to increase your research efficiency (and your internet dependency) even further, you’ve come to the right place. I’m excited to share with you a few new tools that I recently stumbled across. Disclaimer: these are all new finds for me, so I haven’t actually started using them. If you have experience with them, good or bad, leave a comment and tell us what you think!

1. Quartzy
Of all these tools, Quartzy is the one that has the most potential to change the way science is done; it also seems to require the greatest time investment to get started. Once it’s up and running, I expect it will streamline a lot of everyday lab activities. Each lab member can sign on and search the group inventory, place orders, look up common protocols, and more. The interface is user friendly and I think this service will only get better with time. So ask your lab manager (or a particularly ambitious grad student) to sign up!

2. SciGit
Okay, SciGit doesn’t actually exist yet, but I’m looking forward to its release. For years, software developers have been using a system called Git to track versions of code with multiple editors, making sure that everyone’s edits get incorporated seamlessly (and reversibly, if problems arise). SciGit hopes to do the same thing, but for scientific papers. When it launches, which I hope is soon, it will feature document sharing and merging of inputs from various editing programs.

3. Prezi
Prezi has been around for a while, and I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, mostly because I was too lazy to learn a new program when PowerPoint is so familiar. If PowerPoint is a reliable Honda Civic, an unsurprising, no-frills way of getting you where you need to go, then Prezi is a shiny new Tesla. It’s not appropriate for every situation, but watching it in action is AWESOME.

4. CrossRef
CrossRef is an organization that helps publishers register DOI names, and they have a free DOI look-up that takes a text citation and spits out a DOI and a link to the article. If you’re not familiar with DOI (digital object identifier), it’s a unique code assigned to all electronic documents (circled in red in the first picture), like a filing system for the internet. DOIs help keep track of articles, even when the URL for an article changes over time. Want to look deeper into a particular reference? Copy the citation and paste it into CrossRef. Want to see the online version of an article to check out the supporting info? Just type in http://dx.doi.org/[DOI goes here] and you’re there. (The DOI is usually printed somewhere on the first page of the article). Your days of looking up a journal’s web page and then typing in volume, issue and page numbers to find an article are officially over.

Do you have a favorite online tool that makes your science go more smoothly? Tell us about it in the comments.

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6 comments

  1. Sorell

    Thanks for the rundown on such helpful services. You’ve certainly saved me time searching out for some of these.

  2. Alice

    I use Zotero for a reference manager. I like it better than EndNote: free, online or on your desktop/laptop, and sharable. You can take notes, you can pull a reference out of anything (Pubmed, the PDF of the paper, the journal webpage, off a website (for non-journal references)), and you can take notes and cross-reference them across papers.

  3. Hi Anna,

    Another cool and useful tool for scientists is 1DegreeBio.org, a life science review site for researchers. You can find and contribute product and service reviews. It is like sharing word of mouth with people in your lab, but on a global scale.

    Cheers!

  4. Great roundup of useful services! We also have one in the pocket which is called labfolder.net – an innovative digital lab notebook for life-scientists. One of our staff is currently in New York until 4th June, then SF until 9th June. contact us if you’d like to know more 🙂