Experiment 3: Introduction to Chemical Informatics

Chemical information has been collected and indexed for more than 100 years now, for most of that time in the form of books and journals. In modern times however, printed materials have shown an alarming tendency to increase in price, a trend which if continued could result in libraries in 10-15 years time being able to afford only 20% of the purchases they make now. By the time information reaches the printed page, it may be months or years old, and perhaps no longer current. Books also go missing and journals spend time at the binders. In searching for information, you are also at the mercy of whatever index is available and finding focused and organised chemical information is a skill which can take some time to learn. If the information you want is complex, a photocopy of the printed page will need to be made, and finally you may have to manually enter such information into your instrument/word processor or computer program, a particularly error-prone process.

Starting around 1982, chemistry material started appearing "on-line", and there followed a decade where chemistry departments had to develop an associated information technology infra-structure of networking and computer systems before they could take advantage of this mode of delivery. Indexing and searching is now far more efficient, and complex information can be transferred without the risk of typographical errors being introduced. The plethora of new on-line information sources brings new problems however. Whereas the printed page offers a single "user interface", few on-line search programs adopted any consistent or standard interface, and often each had to be learnt anew. Few were (are) "intuitive". In 1995, a new consistent metaphor based on the World-Wide Web started emerging. Its use is illustrated here with with examples of number of different information sources, both general and specific to chemistry. The objective of the experiment is to determine how useful each information source is, and how "data" about the subject can be mined and transformed into "information" with the eventual objective of acquiring "knowledge" about the subject. You will do this by using an "Information Booth", which is available on-line as:

©H. S. Rzepa and ICSTM Chemistry Department, 1994, 1995, 1996.