The continued rise of the internet and so-called 'Web 2.0' developments in particular, offer new opportunities for how chemical information can be stored and shared online — and could transform how the subject is taught and reported.
As with any scientific field, researchers in chemistry are constantly developing new tools and techniques to allow discoveries that will drive the subject forward. But this sort of innovation is only to be expected if the frontiers of our discipline are to expand rather than stagnate. Perhaps some of the most significant developments, however, are in the way information is shared in the wider chemistry community — not only between researchers, but also between student and teacher or reader and publisher.
Arguably, the internet has completely revolutionized how information is distributed and accessed, and scientific publishing has been influenced greatly by this. Little more than 15 years ago, finding an article in the scientific literature meant a trip to the library to hunt out a physical copy of a journal. Mission accomplished, you would often return to the lab with a badly photocopied article in which you couldn't quite make out some of the page numbers in the references.
The situation is very different today and although the more nostalgic among us may miss the seemingly infinite library stacks, it is hard to deny the convenience of opening a web browser, performing a search and downloading an article minutes (or even seconds) later. It is clear that the internet offers many other opportunities for publishing scientific content that traditional paper journals do not, such as providing readers a certain level of interactivity with an article and its content — the display of hyperlinks to relevant information is just one example.
Many journals take advantage of such capabilities and Nature Chemistry will be no different. However, following on from Nature Chemical Biology — one of our sister journals at Nature Publishing Group — research articles published on our website will also include compound information pages on which the reader can view and manipulate three-dimensional models of chemical structures. Moreover, links will be provided to the National Institutes of Health PubChem database and additional compound identifiers such as InChIs will be made available. As an enhancement to the main text of an article, chemical structures will be displayed in pop-up boxes when the cursor hovers over a bold compound number.
The internet has also changed how we communicate with one another — and what is known as 'Web 2.0' is here. Blogs, social-networking sites, wikis and podcasts were alien concepts not all that long ago, but they are here to stay and some of them are significantly impacting the communication of science, and chemistry is no exception. Nature Publishing Group joined the chemical blogosphere back in March 2006 when we launched 'The Sceptical Chymist' blog and 'ChemPod' — a chemistry-themed podcast if you hadn't guessed. To reflect the firm inroads that chemistry seems to have made into the blogging culture, Nature Chemistry will feature a monthly column called 'Blogroll' that will round up stories that have caught the attention of the chemistry bloggers. Our first topics include a citation controversy and a reminder that boron isn't boring!
As pointed out in a Commentary on page 2 of this issue, the internet can also be used to teach chemistry very effectively — even image-heavy topics such as mechanistic organic chemistry. Traditional classroom learning has a number of limitations including physical ones, such as the number of students that can squeeze into a given room, and conceptual ones, such as the way students are given feedback and how their exams are graded. Online courses represent classrooms without borders, allowing students from across the globe to come together and learn from experts. Although bricks-and-mortar universities are a vital part of our society, they should embrace online teaching methods as a way of reaching out to as many students — whether of chemistry or another subject — as possible.
It is without question that chemistry, as one of the core fundamental sciences, is a truly global subject. With this in mind, our editorial team is deliberately based in London, Boston and Tokyo so that we can reach out to chemists in many different locations much more effectively. Interacting with scientists at conferences and at their home institutions is much easier as a result of our geographical spread.
Finally, with all the changes described above about the way that chemistry is being published and taught, we should also stop and consider the science of chemistry itself. As a famous physicist and perhaps an even more famous baseball player are reputed to have said, making predictions is hard, especially when they're about the future. Nonetheless, we asked eight brave souls to outline their visions for how they see their particular branches of chemistry developing in the coming years. Turn to page 5 and see what they had to say — and whether you agree. Whether you do or not, we hope you enjoy reading the first issue of Nature Chemistry.
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Chemistry 2.0. Nature Chem 1, 1 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nchem.137
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