5 Killer Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Science


Celine Cammarata


Take your smartphone from toy to tool with these simple tricks!


512px-App_Store_icon.svg1. Increase you APPtitude for Science

Want to calculate dilutions, figure out what that blob under your microscope is, or know which buffer to use?  There’s an app for that!  There are hundreds of great apps to help you with your research, but here are a few of our favorites:

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  • Protocolpedia gives you offline access to hundred of protocols in the palm of your hand, as well as a set of useful calculators, a new lab timer feature, and even forums to discuss your work with other researchers.
  • Dilution is a super simple app that does exact what it sounds like – calculates dilutions.  This no frills app is perfect if you want find your dilution quickly without having to do math in your head or fill your lab notebook with scribbled numbers.
  • Beakr aims to give the one things that scientists often struggle to find: instant gratification. Like any great game, you can level up by completing tasks – in this case experiments – track your success, and even share (or compete) with friends.  Demotivation be gone!
  • Bacteria identification is unimaginatively named but incredibly handy, not to mention cool.  This little app combines Advanced Bacterial Identification Software based on morphology, growth conditions, etc. with an encyclopedia of bacterias to figure out just what it is you’re seeing on those plate.


 [box style=”rounded”]Bonus tip: For even more great apps, check out the collections at BioTechniques and Life Technologies [/box]


Credit: katerha via flickr
Credit: katerha via flickr

  2. Read Papers Without Deforesting a Small Country

Forget teetering stacks of printed out papers – your smartphone is you new best friend for scientific reading.  Many journals, including Science, Nature, and Cell, now have their own apps allowing you to browse and access papers, and there are numerous apps for using PubMed on your mobile device.  The screen may seem small at first, but the trade off is being able to zoom in on figures and keep them looking great – no more monotone, impossible to interpret images courtesy of your printer.  Finally, apps such as Notability let you mark up PDFs of papers freely, so you can highlight, annotate, and doodle (and even add voice recordings) to your hearts content.

[box style=”rounded”]Bonus tip: Discover new and relevant papers on Scizzle and stay tuned for the Scizzle app! BTW, Did you see our new home page?[/box]



Credit: Jmak via WikiMedia Commons
Credit: Jmak via WikiMedia Commons

3. Collaboration Elaboration

Don’t let distance keep you apart – a little smartphone handiwork can make collaborators feel like they’re right in the lab with you, no more attempting to describe exactly what that weird result looked like.  To keep your hands free to work while still allowing your smartphone a good view of your experiments, try mounting it on a tripod – you can even make one yourself!  Use FaceTime or Skype for real-time collaboration, or snap pictures and video to share later – most phones let you edit videos easily so you can send only the relevant parts.  Time for lab meeting? Google+ Hangouts lets you discuss your work with multiple people at once – it’s simple, free, and gets the job done.  If you want to share a presentation with others, Fuze Meeting and Join.Me let you share screens and slides.

4. Present in the Present (Not in the Past)

Credit: WikiMedia Commons
Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Tired of dragging your computer around when it’s your turn to give lab meeting or journal club?  Present from your phone!  Making presentations from scratch is fairly simple on an iPhone using Keynote, though it’s still tricky on Android devices, and either platform features numerous ways to display presentations once created.  You can buy cables allowing connection to a projector, follow instructions to hook your iPhone or Android  to a larger screen, or even make a projector yourself.  Even if you do still lug in the laptop, you can liberate yourself from the podium by turning your iPhone or Android into a remote control, letting you advance the presentation from anywhere in the room, get a preview of upcoming slides, and even see presenter notes.


5. Keep it Clean

Credit: Karen/ karpatchi (Flickr)
Credit: Karen/ karpatchi (Flickr)

Ahh lab notebooks – they start out so pristine and organized, but somehow they always end up as a jumbled mess of scribbles and scotch-taped gel pictures.  Not anymore!  Now your lab notebook can stay crisp and clean, and can fit in your pocket.  Labguru is designed specifically for scientists, and lets you not only easily take notes – including pictures – but also pull up protocols, keep a running shopping list for supplies, and more.  The more general Evernote is also widely popular, and several blogs give in-depth tips for using Evernote in the lab.

[box style=”rounded”]Bonus tip: electronic lab notebooks are becoming so popular that a group at NYU did what any good scientists would and wrote a paper on it![/box]

Do you have a favorite app worth sharing? Did we miss any cool app?