Sciencescape: A New Tool For Accelerated Efficient Research

Image from Sciencescape
Image from Sciencescape

When my father was a young professional working for a German company designing solar panels, they used to have team meetings almost every day to discuss the progression of the research. Every day, the secretary would be the first one to arrive to scour new articles published in engineering journals in order to keep the team fully updated. He would then type up his findings and make several copies for the attendees to discuss during the meeting.

Now imagine how easier this job would have been if, say, there was a Twitter-like platform where he could log onto from the comfort of his home; check his feed on current literature; receive notifications as soon as a paper gets published; organize the literature in a virtual library; and be able to digitally share this library with the team instead of printing copies. He would be able to cash in quite a few more hours of sleep! But sleeping aside, imagine if you could have a Twitter-like platform being updated 24/7 and notifying you of all the breakthroughs in literature the second they come out. Imagine having not to miss out on reading a recent paper that might greatly improve your research or that might discuss the same experiments you are working on, giving you hints on what works or not so you can change your course accordingly without losing time. Suddenly, being scooped doesn’t feel like the approach of the apocalypse, but a minor setback in the course of your graduate studies.

Well, guess what? Your academic journey in exploring the tangled rainforest jungles has gotten a lot easier. I would like to introduce you to a new platform that is currently paving an exciting path within the mesh of scientific papers and journals. Grad student, meet Sciencescape: your new guide to navigating the wilderness of scientific publications.

The story
After being well into his PhD and getting scooped on one unsuspecting day, Sam Molyneux thought that there has to be a better way to do research. With over 23 million papers in the biomedical field, it is almost inevitable that you will miss out on some important findings in your field. In 2010, Sam teamed up with his sister Amy, a web developer, to create the concept of Sciencescape: a large interactive database that can stream research papers from Pub Med in real-time. As of 2014, the startup managed to harness $3M in funds and ranked one of The Scientist’s Top 10 Innovations in Life Sciences in 2014.


Screen shot of my Sciencescape interface, showing the daily feed, search bar, my library and other options discussed in the Features.
Screen shot of my Sciencescape interface, showing the daily feed, search bar, my library and other options discussed in the Features. (Click to enlarge)

The Sciencescape platform runs on intelligent algorithms that can read entire papers and sort them according to topic, author, field, and even individual genes and proteins. This allows you to do many things, such as:

  • Search through millions of existing papers and journals to-date with an optimized search engine that takes into account the number of citations and the origin of the citations, emphasizing the quality of the journals in which the paper was cited. This is called “Optimization by Eigenfactor” – a feature you will see on the Sciencescape interface.
  • Organize and save the papers you are interested in within libraries that you can access.
  • Share papers with your team members (feature best used if all team members are encouraged to have a Sciencescape account).
  • Get a timeline visual. This feature in Sciencescape allows you to search by field and organizes the data according to a graph to show you important dates when a breakthrough was made or a major paper was published, also including the progression and quantity of papers published throughout the past.
  • Subscribe to a field, a topic (e.g. IRGM gene or autophagy) and follow authors who work in the same topic as you.
  • Access to PDFs by providing your institutional email address.

The test

I learned about Sciencescape after having written a great chunk of my thesis already and collected about 50 references. Collecting those references took me almost three weeks. I managed to collect and organize all these references in literally less than two hours on Sciencescape. If you’re not convinced, it took an entire year for me to find out the key authors who work on my protein of interest. On Sciencescape, this process does not take more than half an hour. Imagine if I had that knowledge before then I would have been able to contact these people and get a lot more insight into my project. Establishing collaboration is such a vital step in research progression and seems to be largely under-rated lately – possibly due to the massive amounts of publications!

Looking ahead
A nascent project, Sciencescape is advancing onto a really bright future in becoming an indispensible tool for researchers, libraries and industry. Check out the new blog featuring fun articles about recent discoveries in science written by graduate students about topics that fascinate them. Additionally – and this is one of my favourites – look forward to a new feature that will distinguish primary publications from reviews. No time to get updated on the literature? Use that 20-minute bus ride before your meeting to access the review feature and you’re good to go!
CEO of Sciencescape, Sam, hopes to expand the scope of Sciencescape in the future to include papers from physics, chemistry and many other disciplines.

As an aspiring journalist, a field where researching through massive volumes of data and publications is required, I wish we had more platforms like Sciencescape for non-academic articles and records. For now, I am more than content with Sciencescape – even grateful!

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