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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2015

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There's an App for That

Sci-Tech Apps You (Or Your Students) Should Use

Chanitra Bishop
Web & Digital Initiatives Librarian
Hunter College
New York, New York


The popularity of mobile devices has led to a plethora of applications or "apps" to accommodate users of tablet and smartphones. There are apps available for everything you can imagine and this holds true in the field of science and technology. Users increasingly want to be able to access, manipulate, and share information using various platforms, including apps. An engineer, for example, can use an app such as LuxCalc Fluid Prop I to quickly calculate absolute viscosity or thermal expansion for a given temperature, or use AutoCAD 360 to share drawings. It is important for librarians to be tech savvy and knowledgeable about applications for mobile devices. While providing information through the use of mobile apps may appear to be out of the scope of libraries, or unnecessary due to the availability of information in other formats or devices, the growing reliance on mobile devices makes it more pertinent.

Mobile Devices - Some Data

According to the Pew Research Center, 64% of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone and 19% of Americans depend on a smartphone for some level of Internet access (Smith 2015; Mobile Device Ownership 2015):

As smartphones become more mainstream, the popularity of mobile apps has also increased. Gartner, a research technology firm that provides technology-related reports, has predicted the number of mobile app downloads will reach 268 billion by 2017 (Gartner Says 2013). Research by Nielsen indicates that smartphone users between the ages of 18-24 are spending more time in apps, approximately 27 hours per month (So Many Apps 2015).

Surveys done by the Pew Research Center in 2011 and again in 2013, found that apps are downloaded by 50% of cell phone owners and that adults between the ages of 18-29 are most likely to download apps (Purcell 2011; Duggan 2013). Furthermore, 60% have looked up health information and 40% of users have looked up government information or services while 30% have gotten educational information using their smartphone (Smith 2015):

For colleges and universities, this is an indication of how students are accessing information. It is important to note that while smartphone and app usage is growing, that usage is concentrated on the most popular apps, and the number of apps used each month continues to remain relatively stagnant at 28 apps (So Many Apps 2015). The University of Alabama at Birmingham's Online Masters in Management Information Systems created an infographic on the Future of Mobile Application Development which summarizes this data.

Sci-Tech Apps

As Chitra Sethi notes, the portability, convenience and ease of use, along with the computing power of smartphones have led to users feeling that smartphones are a necessity (Sethi 2011). A study conducted by Pew in 2014 found that 46% of smartphone users say "they couldn't live without" their phone (Smith 2015). Due to the proliferation of apps, this review will focus on Android and iPhone educational apps that can be used to assist with coursework. The list features both paid and free apps.

Graphing Calculator
Both TIME magazine and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers have given this app positive reviews. The calculator is useful in a variety of STEM fields including mathematics, science, and engineering as it doubles as a high resolution plotter and a scientific calculator. While your traditional Texas Instruments calculator may still work just fine, it's clunky to carry around with you and not as interactive as this app, which allows users to graph equations and share the results via e-mail. Additional features of the app include the ability to quickly plot and trace multiple equations on one graph, a custom keyboard to enter equations more efficiently, and using pinch to zoom, and drag to scroll across the graph in real time (Sethi 2012). If you prefer a free graphing calculator app, Free Graphing Calculator is a good alternative.
PCalc Lite
Is a free scientific calculator for iOS. The free version has trigonometric and logarithmic functions along with a radian mode. There is also PCalc for users that need a more powerful calculator (Corpuz 2015).
If you are using an Android device and need a scientific calculator, RealCalc is a good option. It's an excellent substitute as it is designed to mimic a hand-held calculator. For additional features such as the ability to calculate fractions and convert to decimals get RealCalc Plus, the pro version of Android's most popular scientific calculator (Prakash 2012). has created a suite of paid and free apps related to medicine, health and fitness. Essential Skeleton 4, Images & Animation, and Dental Education Lite are the free apps. Unfortunately, most of their apps are for the iPad or iPhone but Essential Anatomy 3 is available for Android devices. All of the apps feature 3D technology for clear crisp images. Essential Skeleton 4 and Education Lite allow users to place notes on the 3D model. Images and Animations and Dental Patient Education were designed specifically for the iPad. Images and Animations allows users to create slideshows and save images as favorites (Essential Skeleton 4 n.d.; Images and Animations App n.d.; Dental Education Lite n.d.).
Wolfram Alpha
Available for both iPhone and Android devices. Use this app to quickly get answers to all of your burning questions that require complex computations. Need to know the derivative of a number? Use this app to quickly find the answer. It is a great tool for students looking for data for a class project. Wolfram Alpha continues to build out its suite of STEM apps. There are now also apps that act as course aids. You can get help in courses such as Chemistry and Astronomy as well as Statistics and Discrete Mathematics. In addition, there are Reference apps for topics such as Stars and Isotopes.
{PLOS Reader}
Anyone doing scientific research will find this app an invaluable tool. This free app allows users to search current journal articles from the Public Library of Science. The apps provides science articles on everything from biology to pathogens. Currently, it is only available for android devices (Apps for Science Lovers n.d.).
The Elements: A Visual Exploration
While this interactive iOS app is expensive at $13.99, it is a must have for anyone studying chemistry. It includes high resolution images and an interactive 360 animation of the periodic elements (Hoffman 2014).
EarthViewer & EarthViewer - Android
A great free app for geology students on both the iOS and android platforms. EarthViewer provides geological and atmospheric data. Users are able to view virtual continental drifts. The app also provides historical information on the planet's temperature, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels from prehistoric to modern times (Hoffman 2014).
This app, created by NASA for both the Android and iOS platforms, includes images of the solar system along with a description that includes historical information. The app also provides an overview of planets including a definition of what constitutes a planet. In addition to images of the solar system, the app includes a database of over 10,000 searchable images of space-related activities. There is also a calendar to allow users to select images by date.
Cell World & Cell World - iOS
Created by V.I.E.W., Cell World provides a 3D immersive experience for students to learn about human cells. The app contains descriptions that can also be played for those who prefer to listen as they read. Cell World is a free app and available on for both the iPhone and Android devices.
iLab Timer
iLab is ideal for anyone conducting several experiments in a lab simultaneously. It has 10 timers, all with different alarms (Apps for Science Lovers n.d.), and is available on iOS.
This is a great app for anyone engaged in biological and chemical research. In addition to calculating buffers for pH control, it is also a reference source for buffering agents with molecular weights and CAS numbers. (Apps for Science Lovers n.d.; Prakash 2012). It is available on iOS.
For students learning about cell division, Mitosis is a great study aid. This free app includes videos, microscopic photos and interactive quizzes. Unfortunately, this app is only available on the iPhone (Apps for Science Lovers n.d.).


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