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Interactive textbook offers new resource for chemists

Apr. 2, 2013 — Industrial chemists working toward new drugs and other goals, as well as organic chemistry students, now have a unique new resource to guide them through chemical challenges. A trio of scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has created the first-ever fully interactive advanced organic chemistry textbook, called The Portable Chemist's Consultant: A Survival Guide for Discovery, Process, and Radiolabeling.

The book is available from iTunes (

"This is a book that has been a decade in the making," said project leader Professor Phil Baran, a TSRI chemist. "It really crystallized in my head a few years ago during consulting visits when I noticed that the types of problems people were asking about were not really addressable with current textbooks." Baran also wasn't content with materials available for graduate students and saw great potential for interactivity in new tablet computers.

In contrast to traditional texts that have been converted to electronic form as tablets have grown more popular, this graduate organic text was created from the ground up, exclusively for tablets using Apple software.

Baran sees the textbook, currently available exclusively on Apple iPads, as a cross between a Boy Scout manual and the popular magazine Consumer Reports. It teaches all the basics like a survival guide, and, in the style of Consumer Reports, offers unbiased guidance.

Chemical Immersion

Part 1 covers the foundations of chemistry involving Heterocyclic-Compounds'>heterocyclic compounds, a massive class of organic molecules at the heart of everything from medicinal to agricultural chemistry. Part 2 offers details on the best ways to approach dozens of problems most often encountered by industrial chemists. The overall effect, as the name implies, is like a consultant walking a chemist through a variety of challenges, but without the hourly fees.

If a medicinal chemist is, for instance, looking to hydrolyze a methyl ester -- but without racemizing a pesky neighboring site, of course -- he or she would find everything needed to get to work. The book lists possible chemical reactions that might be used, ranked to reveal the best method currently available.

"Medicinal chemists don't want a list of 50 references on all the ways to do a reaction," said Baran. "They want to know the one to try first." In the textbook, pressing on that best choice will bring up details on performing the reaction, while other links go to the original paper describing the procedure and helpful videos. "It's an immersive experience," he said.

In the past, settling on the best option would have meant reading through extensive literature to discover ways that others have approached similar problems, and searching databases for structures similar to what the chemist would like the end product to be. "This text basically shortcuts the whole process," said Baran.

Educational Transformation

The Portable Chemist's Consultant is also a key element in an ongoing educational transformation. Baran's heterocycles class starting April 2 at TSRI's Kellogg School of Science and Technology will focus on the new book, with other aspects of the class going digital as well. All class notes, quizzes, tests and even lecture videos will be available on iTunes University, an Apple education application, a first for TSRI.

Although the book is now available, it's not really complete, said Ana Montero, a TSRI staff scientist and one of the book's coauthors, nor is it likely ever to be. "Our idea is that because it's an electronic version, we'll keep adding new chapters and other material," she said. While the authors have already thought of items to add, they're also hoping the book's updates will have an interactive element as well. "We'll get feedback from readers and then include what they want to see," said co-author and TSRI Staff Scientist Yoshihiro Ishihara.

The book is available for just $39.99, in contrast to standard textbooks that cost from $125 to $250.

"The point here is not to make money," said Baran. "The point is to help people. For us, the greatest success would be to get feedback one day from someone saying, 'This book helped me come up with an idea that led to a drug that's now on the market.' "

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

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