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How The Internet Changed Chemistry

C&EN reporters and outside contributors explore the impact of taking the central science online

by Lauren K. Wolf
August 16, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 32

Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
A collage of different illustrations used throughout the article.
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

It’s hard to remember a time when people wrote letters rather than e-mails. Or when news broke in the daily paper rather than on social media sites such as Twitter. It’s even difficult today to imagine going to a bank teller instead of clicking a few buttons to pay the bills.

But before the Internet, these unfathomables were reality. The infamous network of computers was born about 45 years ago, when the first electronic message was sent between two computers, from the University of California, Los Angeles, to Stanford Research Institute. Then, some 25 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the Web, making the Internet accessible to ordinary people rather than—and we say this with the utmost respect—computer geeks.

During its short life, the Web, which has become synonymous with the Internet, has changed daily life for billions of people across the globe. In the U.S. alone, at least 87% of the population now uses the Internet regularly, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey.

But the Internet hasn’t just affected personal life. It’s also drastically altered professional life. For chemists, it’s hard to remember a time when a trip to the library was necessary to read a journal article, or when ordering a chemical from a paper catalog over the phone was the norm.

Thanks to the Internet, chemists now rapidly share data with research team members scattered across the globe. They access chemical information stored in databases with just a swipe of the finger. And they model molecular structures and simulate reactions using shared online programs.

In the pages that follow, C&EN takes a look at these and other ways in which the Internet has changed the chemical enterprise over the past 25 years (or 45, depending on how you define the Internet).

But we didn’t want you to just take our word for it. The tale of how the Internet has changed chemistry should to be told by those who’ve lived through it. So in addition to our reporters, we asked some distinguished contributors to share their past experiences and their future predictions.

Whether your career started before the days of online publishing or Google has always been your go-to place to find answers, take some time to read about the transformative power of the Internet.  


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