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Alexa, what’s in the news?

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
February 16, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 7


How time flies . . . Three years ago almost to the day, we introduced a new look and feel for C&EN’s weekly print magazine. At the time, the magazine had not seen any major changes for a number of years, and we were excited to be able to inject new life into its design and overhaul the organization of the content.

Last year, around this time of year, too, we launched our podcast, Stereo Chemistry. Looking to capitalize on the success of our video series, Speaking of Chemistry, we started a monthly podcast. Since then, we have been enjoying sharing our reporters’ expertise and analysis and having the opportunity to broadcast the voices of members of the community. This product has been growing strong, and its latest episode, designed to celebrate Valentine’s Day, highlights scientist couples who share how science got them together and advice for making a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) relationship work. It is definitely worth a listen.

Stereo Chemistry was just one of the developments that we implemented in 2018. We also revamped C&EN Digital Magazine, which you have been receiving each Monday if you signed up to access the magazine in digital form rather than print. We reengineered our workflows and processes as well as our content management software so we can produce the journalism you love more quickly and efficiently. More recently, we launched a new mobile-optimized website that allows you to find the news that matters to you—whether it’s the latest in catalysis, drug discovery, or materials—faster than ever before. The new site includes a metered paywall that allows non–American Chemical Society members to sample C&EN content before they decide to join ACS. We also introduced a new, artificial intelligence–powered recommendation engine that helps you discover other content you might find valuable.

Fast-forward to 2019. C&EN’s culture is now one of innovation, and we’re constantly evolving our products so we can better serve your news needs. Our latest project is perfect proof of this: a voice skill for smart speakers. Media organizations have been predicting a “voice search revolution” for some time, with experts estimating that about 30% of all searches will be conducted by voice by 2020. We want to be ready when this revolution happens and ensure you can find C&EN’s journalism on this emerging platform.

Our news briefing for voice, launched on Feb. 11 and aptly called Chemistry Update, delivers news highlights to your Amazon Echo smart speaker. Chemistry Update includes three short news briefs each weekday and a weekend roundup of the most interesting briefs of the previous week. It will allow you to get caught up on the latest from C&EN in just a couple of minutes.

Getting started is very easy. All you need to do is 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,” Find step-by-step instructions at


But we couldn’t have done it without you. Throughout the process we counted on the help of our user research group, C&EN Reader Lab. These 400-some readers have volunteered to participate in our research and help us with product development. C&EN Reader Lab members were very generous with their time and kind enough to share what they’d hope to hear in a C&EN voice skill.

We believe we have designed a product that accommodates their desires, but we would like to hear from others within the community. As we learn more from readers, we will continue to tweak this product and make it better. We’ll also be working to expand this voice skill to other smart devices.

Enjoy Chemistry Update!.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

UPDATE: This article was updated on March 29, 2021, to change the way you listen to Flash Briefings via Alexa. Flash Briefings are no longer triggered by saying "Alexa, what's in the news?" Instead, you must say, "Alexa, play my Flash Briefing."


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