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Real-Time Community

With the Twitter hashtag #RealTimeChem, chemists worldwide incubate ideas, share snaps

by Carmen Drahl
February 24, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 8

Credit: C&EN/Matthew Katcher/Shutterstock
Meet Matthew Katcher, who helped Blog Syn, a new project for checking chemical reactions' reproducibility, get off the ground. Find out what reaction he checked and what’s in store for Blog Syn now.

“What are you working on?” It’s a question every chemist has addressed, typically in the corridor or at a conference. With the advent of smartphones and the social network Twitter, a growing band of chemists is addressing it in a different way—publicly, online, and in real time.

The phenomenon is called #RealTimeChem, after the label, or hashtag, that participants use. To join in, chemists need only sign up for Twitter, then use the service to share or “tweet” what they’re up to—whether meeting a client or setting up a distillation. Researchers on every continent except Antarctica have taken part.

“This is a low-cost, low-barrier way to network,” says Adam Azman, a chemistry lecturer at Butler University. For a chemist who can’t travel or is learning how to build professional relationships, #RealTimeChem is a virtual watercooler. Mixed in with a typical day’s real-time tweets are messages about journal articles or reaction troubleshooting. And of course, oohing and aahing over pretty pictures of crystals or lasers, a smattering of which are shown here. Azman, who tweets under the name @azmanam, inspired the movement. His live-tweeted attempts to determine the proprietary composition of a cleanser attracted advice from chemists in multiple countries.

Many chemists tweet about what they do, says Jason Woolford (@doctor_galac​tic), who launched the community by holding an official “#RealTimeChem Day” on Marie Curie’s birthday, last Nov. 7. The label is an umbrella to bring those individuals or small communities together, he says.

“It has really taken off, more than I thought it would,” says University of Leeds postdoc Jessica Breen (@JessTheChemist), who coined the #RealTimeChem name. Daily tweets don’t match the all-time high from Nov. 7, but conversation levels among a smaller group have stayed consistent since then. Woolford, who just joined the Royal Society of Chemistry as a publishing editor, is planning a #RealTimeChem week for April.

Real-time tweeting isn’t for everyone. “I was slightly concerned with intellectual property issues,” wrote Marvinthefish, a chemist based in Cambridge, England, on his blog. He ended up participating but tweeted only “fairly generic” images. Some workplaces, including his, block Twitter for productivity reasons.

But chemists who can participate relish the camaraderie they find online. One group’s #RealTimeChem chatter has led to an independent project, a website called Blog Syn. The project aims to complement established journals and websites that verify published synthetic procedures. Blog Syn team member Matthew Katcher (@katmatcher), a Princeton University chemistry graduate student, says he’s glad he’s taking part in #RealTimeChem. “It makes you feel like part of a community.”


Jen Dougan @JenDtweeting
Kicking off #RealTimeChem day with a coffee!
Jason Woolford RealTimeChem@RealTimeChem
Keep Calm and Do Chemistry Today. It's #RealTimeChem Day.
Luke Gamon@lgamon
What's that hissing noise? Damn you tubing...
Katie Reynolds@krennie92
RSC Communications@RSC_comms
It's like a beautiful chemistry flower!
Clean dishes -- a crucial part of #RealTimeChem.
Gee Roxas@squidring
Periodic table cupcakes :)
Johnston group, Vanderbilt U. The Johnston Group@JNJChem
An aza-Henry adduct so pure it crystallizes all on its own. Good work Amanda.
Twitter/@onesleepynerd onesleepynerd@onesleepynerd
Making these little ice shells while rotovapping on ice never gets old.
The Second Criterio@secondcriterion
I think #RealTimeChem needs more lasers. Here's what I'm working on today:.
Miriam R. Wilson Miriam R Wilson@miriamrwilson
Please help #realtimechem. Anyone know how to use MestReNova to make the white bits black in this picture?
Cleaned my bench while waiting for my tosylation to finish up.
Dr Jess@JessTheChemist
My favourite #realtimechem moment
Simon Lancaster @S_J_Lancaster
#realtimechem has made it into the #CHEMF11 lecture room come on @CHEMF11SJL
Jen Bon@jbondoesscience
Party in my hood!
Rich Apodaca@rapodaca
Amino Acids dataset finished. iPad interface built & tested. Submitted to App Store. Fingers crossed.
Reed Roberts@ReedRoberts
The primary colours of thesis writing.
Matthew Katcher@katmatcher
Ok, here we go! Forgot how colorful nitroarenes can be
Kat Badiola@CaverKat
Finally home time. Took 7 hrs & a gazillion fractions - but I managed to isolate every single dot of 26-9


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