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ACS News

Listen to chemistry news on Amazon Echo, Google Home

With Chemistry Update, you have a new way to get the latest from C&EN

by Jessica Morrison
February 11, 2019



Chemistry Update by C&EN was discontinued on Jan. 31, 2022. We are now exploring alternative ways to bring you audio news. If you're interested in listening to other audio content, check out C&EN's podcast, Stereo Chemistry.

A cartoon of a chemist getting his Alexa Flash Briefing.
Credit: Will Ludwig/C&EN

Today we launched a product that delivers chemistry news highlights to your Amazon Echo smart speaker. If you’d like to try it out right now, add Chemistry Update by C&EN to your Flash Briefing by enabling it in your Alexa app, and then say, “Alexa, play my Flash Briefing.” For detailed instructions on how to get started, jump to the bottom of this post.

C&EN’s daily Flash Briefing includes three short news briefs each weekday and a weekend roundup of the most interesting briefs of the previous week. Whether you listen in the morning when you’re getting dressed or in the afternoon while you’re taking a break from the lab bench, you’ll get caught up on the latest from C&EN fast.

Our product team started working on Chemistry Update in April of last year. Back then, we didn’t know what form it would ultimately take. Would we create a news update, a quiz, a voice interface for our popular What’s That Stuff feature?

So we started talking to readers of C&EN who already use smart speakers to listen to music, get weather updates, and catch up on the news.

During discovery interviews with our user research group, C&EN Reader Lab, participants told us they’d like to hear headlines, short news briefs, and feature-length articles. One reader asked for it all: “Can I have everything from the magazine on there?”

We tested the first iteration of our voice product in August 2018 at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Boston. Our first attempt was a daily news briefing that contained a single C&EN news story read by Alexa, and our testers told us pretty quickly that it wasn’t great.

The first briefing, clocking in at about two minutes, was dry and monotonous, testers said. They also found it annoying to hear Alexa read literature citations or struggle through chemical formulas. The length was fine, most said, but everyone we asked said the depth was all wrong for casual listening.

We went back to work, and we built a new briefing with shorter articles (and more of them). All the stories that you’ll now hear in Chemistry Update are written specifically to be read by Alexa. That means you won’t hear Alexa fumble through a citation or complicated chemical formula.

Now we’re ready for you to give it a try.

Even though we’re launching Chemistry Update publicly today, we’re still thinking about it as an experiment. We’ll tweak it over the next few months as we learn more about what our readers—our listeners—like and don’t like. Then we’re looking forward to getting started on that wish list, which includes bringing C&EN to other smart speakers, like Google Home. Update: On Nov. 15, 2019, we launched Chemistry Update by C&EN for Google Home smart speakers. To listen, just say “OK, Google. Play the podcast Chemistry Update.”

If you like what we’re doing or you’d like to offer some feedback to help make our products better, drop us a note at


How to add Chemistry Update by C&EN to your Flash Briefing


A Flash Briefing is a customizable Amazon skill that includes updates from your favorite news services. When you say, “Alexa, play my Flash Briefing, you’ll hear updates from any news organization that you have enabled. There are three ways to add Chemistry Update to your Flash Briefing:

Say, “Alexa, enable Chemistry Update by C&EN (pronounced C and E N).”

Go to the Chemistry Update by C&EN page on Amazon and click Enable.

Open the Alexa app on your mobile device, and search for Chemistry Update by C&EN. Tap the button that says “Enable to use.”

Now you’re ready to listen to Chemistry Update on your Amazon Echo devices. If you need more help setting up your Flash Briefing, follow these instructions.


On Nov. 15, 2019, we launched Chemistry Update by C&EN for Google Home smart speakers. To listen, just say “OK, Google. Play the podcast Chemistry Update.”

Update: This article was updated on March 26, 2021, to remove the option to say "Alexa, what's in the news?" to get updates from news organizations that you have enabled. That question no longer triggers Flash Briefings by Alexa. The image in the article was also updated to change "Alexa, what's in the news?" to "Alexa, play my Flash Briefing."


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