The blog before you…

…is part of the burgeoning chemical blogging community and part of a series of blogs emanating from the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics at the University of Cambridge. Unlike most of the other blogs out there that deal with chemistry, this one will not be about organic chemistry, and certainly not about total synthesis (these guys seem to be capitalizing the blogging market somewhat) but rather about polymers. To be even more precise, about polymers and computers.

While we have made great advances in using computers to design and understand molecules in such areas as medicinal chemistry and structural biology, polymer science and computers have seemed like oil and water – they didn’t mix. This is mainly due to the intrinsic nature of polymers: while the definition and representation of single molecules in a machine comprehensible way is relatively trivial, doing the same for ensembles of molecules, all of which have slightly different architectures and therefore properties, is not. And ensembles of molecules of different architectures is what polymers are, after all.

To cope with both the structural complexity of polymers as well as the complexity of polymer data, we are currently developing and using a multitude of semantic tools such as XML and its dialects, RDF and OWL. As I am a traditional sort of (polymer) chemist, who, in the past, has mainly used computers to write a thesis and papers, to look at NMR spectra or to surf the web, the learning curve associated with computers in general, all things semantic in particular and thinking about the nature of information has been steep.

So what is this blog supposed to do? Well, a number of things.

Fill a void in the chemical bloggosphere. Organic Chemists blog, polymer chemists don’t. The blog will be a forum for general polymer science…everytime I find a paper in any area of polymer science which for whatever reason I find interesting, I will blog about it. I hope you will find some interest in this too.

To explore the use of blog as a new form of scholarly communication. The Internet is changing the nature of content production in a profound way. By providing and easy and almost free publishing infrastructure, it democratizes content production and also opens up new methods for scientists to communicate. This can take several forms, such as the dissemination of information see Totally Synthetic’s Blog or an interesting new way of communicating science as it is being done in the lab as exemplified by the Open Science blog.

To educate the polymer community about interesting things that are happening in the wonderful world of the web and to show them how some of the technologies used there can also make a polymer chemist’s life a little easier. As a classically trained chemist, my foray into polymer informatics has come with a steep learning curve and I had to try and straddle both domains. As a concequence, I think I am fairly good at being able to talk to both polymer chemists as well as informaticians and hopefully will be able to communicate informatics concepts to chemists in a non-scary and interesting way.

So onwards into an exciting and largely unexplored land!

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