December 2001
Vol. 31, No. 12, pp 64–65.
Touring the Net

Table of Contents

Elizabeth Mitchell

Oh, the places we’ve been. Oh, the places we’ll go.

Back in October 1995, CHEMTECH associate editor Lynn Willis introduced the brand new department “Touring the Internet” with a section called “Starting Points” (1). Lynn reported on a poster that had appeared at the previous ACS national meeting entitled “Chemistry on the Internet: The Best of the Web 1995” (2). This poster, which listed outstanding sites, was the work of Steven M. Bachrach, an associate professor of chemistry at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb; Thomas H. Pierce, a computational chemist at Rohm and Haas, Philadelphia; and Henry S. Rzepa, a reader in organic chemistry at Imperial College, London, who stated, “In compiling this selection, we have focused on the work of key individuals who we believe have shown a vision of the future in creating innovative and original chemistry Internet resources for us all” (3).

A spot check of the 1995 list reflects the life and times of the Web. Some addresses that are no longer valid turn up nothing more than error messages. Some, however, tell a story. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Internet Chemistry Resources list began in 1992 and offers the following (4):

Since instruction in chemical information is no longer offered regularly at Rensselaer, the resources required for timely updates of this site cannot be justified. The site maintainer appreciates the patronage and the many awards and kind comments proffered by the users of this resource during the past 6 years.

Some sites have new names: www.acs.org is now chemistry.org. Lynn reviewed polymers.com in her original article; in 2000, the site became plastics.com, with the goal of becoming “the world’s best resource for the people in plastics” (5).

Some name changes reflect the growth of the original sites. For example, the National Institutes of Health continue to offer vital resources for molecular biology and molecular modeling, but these topics are now part of two separate programs: Computational Molecular Biology at NIH (6) and the NIH Center for Molecular Modeling (7). It is worth spending time at the NIH site to see what has happened there in the past 6 years (8).

Some sites have kept the same addresses and have just become better and better. As of early October, Yahoo!’s Chemistry site now offers 41 categories (9). The two newest are Biochemistry (218 sites) and Chemical Physics (16 sites). Under “More Yahoo!”, there was a new listing for Glenn T. Seaborg with 10 sites linked (10).

The 1995 best-of-the-Web list included a category for value-added processing of chemical information, which listed “The Principles of Protein Structure (groundbreaking courseware edited by Peter Murray-Rust and Alan Mills)” (11). In 1995, this class in the crystallography department at Birkbeck College (University of London) was indeed an experiment. At the end of the first year, the developers wrote,

We are closing down the PPS course for the summer, although work will continue and the pages will remain mounted at the normal URL (plus mirrors). This experiment has been a resounding success, proving the tremendous potential for collaborative distance education and research of the new Internet and Web technologies. The ripples will take a long time to fade. We’re glad you were part of it. We made lots of friends and learnt a lot.

The original course syllabus is still available at the Web site (12). The class is now part of an Advanced Certificate program.

The Advanced Certificate in the Principles of Protein Structure using the Internet is a tutor-assisted, university-level, accredited course. The course exploits modern developments in communications, which means that students from any country may study the course at home, at work, or in a university. This course is of one year duration, is of final-year undergraduate–postgraduate standard, and successful students receive the award of an Advanced Certificate.

From ripples into waves
Far from fading, the early ripples have swelled to large waves. The World Wide Web is serving chemistry very well indeed. The ACS Division of Computers in Chemistry (COMP) received probationary status in April 1974 and managed to present two symposia at the September 1974 ACS national meeting (13). The division has remained active and innovative for almost 30 years, living up to its purpose as put forth in its bylaws (PDF) (14). Computational chemistry has now made its way into almost every aspect of the science. In fact, Chemical & Engineering News featured the division in its cover story on October 8, 2001, with a report on the COMP symposia and awards at the August ACS national meeting (15).

Just as the Web has evolved and grown, so has the ACS presence on the Web. The ACS portal to the world of chemistry, chemistry.org, was introduced at the August national meeting. The developers are committed to providing full access to the information that chemists need. Members and nonmembers of ACS can log on for personalized information and news.

Another extensive source, the NIST Chemistry WebBook, began in the fall of 1996; the first release contained data on more than 15,000 chemical species (16). The current version, NIST Standard Reference Database Number 69, July 2001 Release, has grown to more than 40,000 species and includes extensive resources that were unheard of in 1996 (17).

In some cases, the government has lagged significantly behind academia and commercial ventures in tapping the potential of the Web, but it is now catching up. SciTechResources.gov (18) is a work in progress designed to make searching for government resources specific and easy. The site is managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). It currently lists 37 sites from various government agencies in the Chemistry category. Under the Science category, you can locate government research projects and find their contact information and other important details (19).

Finding the big wave
Staying on top of the ever-changing Web may seem like riding a big wave. Links for Chemists, the chemistry section (20) of the WWW Virtual Library (21), is a powerful site that can help. It is maintained and copyrighted by the University of Liverpool (U.K.). Links for Chemists, an index of more than 8550 chemistry resources, “exists to assist chemists in their search for chemical information on the Web.” The primary aim is to direct chemists toward the resources that best suit their requirements with the minimum number of clicks possible. The site offers only links, with no reviews or commentary about the linked-to sites.

It’s not enough to have a good set of chemistry site bookmarks. Using search engines to their fullest extent is also essential. Although it is handy to rely on one search engine, all of them are works in progress. Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch is always a good place to browse for current information about existing engines and discover the newest ones (22). For example, the day after Google changed its formatting in October, Sullivan provided a review and commentary (23). My favorite all-around site is Kevin Elliott’s Web Search (24), because I like the newspaper feel of the layout. But when I want a quick reminder of what each search engine offers, I go to Greg Notess’s easy-to-read table of search engine comparisons (25).

Whether you are cruising the Web in a sporty car or searching for the Perfect Wave, touring the Internet will continue to be a great adventure. Thank you for letting CHEMTECH and Chemical Innovation be your tour guide for the past 6 years.

References

  1. Willis, L. CHEMTECH 1995, 25 (10), 14.
  2. www.ch.ic.ac.uk/
  3. http://pubs.acs.org/
  4. www.rpi.edu/
  5. www.plastics.com
  6. http://molbio.info.nih.gov/molbio
  7. http://cmm.info.nih.gov/modeling
  8. www.nih.gov/science
  9. www.yahoo.com/Science/Chemistry
  10. http://yahoo.com/Science/Chemistry/Chemists/
    Seaborg__Glenn_Theodore__1912_1999_
  11. www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/PPS/index.html
  12. www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/
  13. http://acs.org/
  14. http://acs.org
  15. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/7941/7941computationalchemistry.html
  16. http://webbook.nist.gov/chemistry/history.html
  17. http://webbook.nist.gov/chemistry
  18. www.scitechresources.gov
  19. www.scitechresources.gov/scitech-databases.htm
  20. www.liv.ac.uk/Chemistry/Links/links.html
  21. www.vlib.org
  22. http://searchenginewatch.com/index.html
  23. http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/01/10-google.html
  24. http://websearch.about.com
  25. http://searchengineshowdown.com


Elizabeth Mitchell is production editor for Chemical Innovation.

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