Alfred and the Chemistry Reference Resolver

We live in a strange time. Working at a small/medium-sized university, I can access almost any scientific article published in the 20th century without leaving my office chair. In principle, each of these articles is interconnected to the rest of the literature through unique citations, and yet the state of linking between these many documents is terrible. Even the most recently published articles tend to be shamefully isolated.

Which is all to say that, as a scientist, there’s still a huge need to quickly access articles without direct hyperlinks. Enter Oleksandr Zhurakovskyi’s Chemistry Reference Resolver. In its native form, you simply type in a reference (e.g., “jacs 136 16666”) and voila, the paper on the publisher’s official website appears.

If you’re a chemist who spends your time digging through the literature, I probably don’t have to tell you how useful this is (and you may very well already know about this). Even when reading a nice, well-produced pdf (or html article) it’s rare to have all of the citations linked properly.

I believe there are a series of browser plugins that allows one to skip the step of going to the website. I’ve personally found it really useful to integrate the Chemistry Reference Resolver into Alfred, my favorite launcher for Mac. It’s just a matter of adding:{query}

as a custom search (I’m sure this would work in a ton of other similar applications as well). I bound this to the “chem” keyword, so, if I want to call up a paper, it’s as simple as this:

  1. Invoke Alfred with ctrl-space.
  2. Type “chem acr 49 646” and return.
  3. Paper magically appears.

I’ve honestly probably used this hundreds of times when writing a single proposal or paper; it often makes it faster to look up a paper online as opposed to finding it in my local database. It probably saves me about ten seconds per paper, which, when you think of it, really adds up over the course of even just a few weeks or months.

I got so dependent on this workflow that I actually started working on a personal local version of the same idea so that I can customize the list of journals and so that I’ll still have the same capability if it ever goes offline. It was a fun little Python programming project I’ll talk about here some other time.

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