Other Cool Scientific App Ideas

The app ideas below that we received as part of the Binary Battle Call for Ideas don't exactly fit within the scope of the Binary Battle competition but are nonetheless worthy of consideration, if you're looking to build a cool scientific app.

One-stop Funding Directory

The idea

A searchable directory that could collate grant/funding opportunities from across all Federal, State and Foundation entities that are currently silo-ed into individual, closed databases on individual websites. This master databank should then be sortable by field, interest area, investigators (e.g. young investigators, tenure-track faculty, postdoc, etc.), funding amount, etc.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Collation of opportunity announcements from across all sources and sortable by type, amount, interest area, target investigators, etc. would greatly increase the efficiency of investigators in finding appropriate sources of funding to apply for, allowing them to spend time more effectively on creating the actual applications and executing their research programs.

Tech specs

Platforms: desktop, tablet, mobile

Suggested by: Llewellyn Cox, PhD:  llewellc(at)usc.edu

Endnote for iPad

The idea


How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Can quickly search my own paper library

Tech specs

Data sources: any RIS, Endnote, etc. bibliographic files

Platforms: iPhone, iPad

Languages: Java

Suggested by: corey.bradshaw(at)adelaide.edu.au

Twitter for the Lab

The idea

A lab internal twitter. 


Labs continue to rely a lot on mailing list for most of communications. 90% of this communications would be more appropriate in a twitter-like form: "conference in room 200 at 2pm" "look at this paper this is great http:apaper.pdf" "how to make a matrix sparse in matlab?" 


The #keyword is obviously nice in this context. The (at)someone would be very useful because you could for example send a paper to the member of your lab you would have mail it before, but the other can also look at it if they are interested.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Improve intra-lab communication.

Tech specs

Platforms: It can be independent or include into Mendeley

Suggested by: Sébastien M. Crouzet - seb.crouzet(at)gmail.com

Space Station Notification

The idea

A small app that send you a message that the Space Station is about to pass overhead, and from what direction.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Put a smile on my face

Suggested by B. Burgess, help(at)pscfg.com

Tree of Life Map

The idea

An app that gives you access to a dynamic, zoomable 3 dimensional TREE OF LIFE.  The first few thousand species come with the app, all the others get added over time by users of the app (and accompanying website) a la Wikipedia, with annual awards for the users who add the most (accurate) info.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

This hasn't been done... yet. It would be something that scientists and non-scientists can compete in.

Tech specs

Data sources: Wikipedia, user generated content.  You'd need to make a branching folder-like system for the backend (to add to the tree) and an all singing, all dancing graphical tree for the front end.

Platforms: Smart phones, all net browsers

Languages: C++, java

Suggested by: Graham Hughes graham(at)theodysseyexpedition.com

Leaf Area Index

The idea

Leaf area index (LAI) from forests, fruit trees or grapevines is essential for Functional Plant Models, to scale up leaf based measurements or to monitor canopy vigor and structure. At the moment, this can be done using allometry (destructive methods, this is stripping canopies and scanning every leaf), which is time consuming, unpractical and expensive. The other method is indirectly using expensive instrumentation such as ceptometers, Licor 2000/2200, etc, which are based in light scattering and gap analysis. A digital cover photography method has been validated for forests and grapevines (Dr Sigfredo Fuentes) and can be incorporated as an app that can be run in any smart-phone, iPad, iPhone with in-built digital cameras. An automated image acquisition and analysis has been developed in MATLAB. This could be a great idea for an app and I have seen a number of people and scientists around the world that already have asked me and are using the MATLAB code for their research. 

If the hardware containing this potential app have GPS capabilities, maps of the distribution of parameters obtained can be obtained too. 

More info: Functional Plant Biology (2008), Volume 35 Issue 9/10, pages 1071-1079

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

This will contribute greatly to modeling and monitoring of canopy architectural characteristics

Tech specs

Data sources: Digital images obtained from the hardware in which the app will be installed.

Platforms: Android, iPads, iPhones

Languages: C++, MATLAB

Suggested by Dr Sigfredo Fuentes (sigfredo.fuentes(at)adelaide.edu.au)

Khanacademy-style practice section for physics

The idea

Make an app with functionality similar to the Khanacademys practice-section, but for physics. 


The idea is to "gamify" science-learning, by having exercises with points awarded for right answers, achievements like "500 points for 10 correct answers in a row" and so on, learning is fun, and motivating. 


The knowledge-map approach is breaks even complex knowledge up into small pieces, and lets you practice one at a time, until you master it all.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It will teach science to new groups

Tech specs

Data sources: integrating the app with Khanacademy would be awesome. (the code for that is already open-source)

Platforms: html5 for maximum availability

Languages: javascript plus free choice of server-side language

Suggested by Eivind, eivindorama(at)gmail.com

Molar Computation Modeling

The idea

My idea goes along the lines of chemistry. I would like to see an app that includes molar computations, compounds that can be made through 3d experiences and balancing equations. And of course a periodic table that's interactive showing densities, specific heat, etc.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It provides a quick reference

Suggested by: Eric Markham: 1karatekidcapecoral(at)embarqmail.com

Flora and Fauna Identification App

The idea

Identification of plants, animals or other natural features. 

There are lots of identification books for plants, including all the identification keys like color of the blossom, number of stamen etc. But when you are on a walk or excursion you only can use the features of the plant that are currently visible (maybe there is no blossom, but you could tell the form of the plant stem or the size of the seed. I would like to enter all identification keys that are available and get a list of possible items (plants in this case) that match the keys. I then could view the pictures and find out what plant it is.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Faster and better identification

Tech specs

Data sources: Use of existing identification literature

Platforms: Mobile devices

Suggested by: Gerhard Hofmann, gerhard(at)blaukasten.de

Signaling Pathways Maps

The idea

Signaling pathway maps

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Easy access to signaling pathways wherever I want

Tech specs

Platforms: iPhone, Windows Phone 7

Suggested by: ceang(at)stanford.edu

Social Network Analysis Tool for Mac

The idea

For the growing field of social network analysis, especially in the political sciences, it would be very helpful to have a social network analysis tool explicit for Mac! There are some great apps out there like visone or UCInet, but those are old fashioned and mostly not for Mac (despite the Java-based visone). But most of them lack a good User Experience and Usability. Such would be a great app!

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Faster and more comfortable analysis of social networks.

Tech specs

Data sources: data from simple excel sheets to advanced data sets of the common network analysis tools like visone, UCInet, pajek etc.

Platforms: Mac OS X

Languages: Cocoa - Mac Stuff

Suggested by Timo Burmeister, timo.burmeister(at)gmail.com

Miracle Gel (Not Quite an App)

The idea

I often try to think of a single gel capable of separating and/or visualizing the DNA, RNA as well as the protein content of cells. It will be like a crude cell extract will be run on a gel Agarose, Polyacrylamide or the mixture of the two which will be cast in a way so that the different molecules (having different charge, size and other properties) will moce at different speeds in an externally applied electric field. This will save a lot of time, money, efforts and reagents to separate the DNA, RNA and proteins of a cell suspension. Furthermore, we always need to deactivate other molecules when extracting one. For example we have to add proteinase when extracting nucleic acids which destroys the proteins in the cells. We also add DNA out (which destroys DNA) while we extract RNA. So we only get only one type of molecule from a cell suspension. Using my idea, we can separate all the three types of molecules from a single cell suspension. The pore size, Ph, voltage and the buffer needs to be standardized for this technique.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It will help the scientist to do more work on a small amount of sample. It will also reduce the cost of many experiments by more than 50%. Also the time taken to separate the different types of molecules will be reduced three times. Reagents will be saved and the method will be relatively easy and far less cumbersome.

Suggested by: Muneeb Faiq: muneeb1983(at)yahoo.co.in

Common Ancestor App

The idea

An educational App which finds the most recent common ancestor between any two species on the planet. For example: The most recent common ancestor between slugs and human beings. The App could demonstrate the stages of evolution in reverse, showing how slugs and humans evolved over time in side-by-side panels. Ideally, the App would also allow the user to start with any one species of animal and then trace it backward through enormous generations of time to see what was its most direct common ancestor, along with cousin species, and the era in which they lived.  


Call it "The Genealogy of Species". Or...something better, I'm sure you lads and ladies are far cleverer than I am.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

This App will provide a visual history of the genealogy of all species (or at least, a lot of species) on this planet. This will help young children and students to more readily comprehend the concept of evolution in a way purely textual information may not be as capable of doing as easily.

Tech specs

Platforms: Linux, Windows, OS X, Android, iOS

Languages: C++, Java, Python

Suggested by aulridgejr(at)gmail.com

Cell Marker Use App

The idea

An app to decide which markers to use to differentiate specific cell populations. The user would input the cell populations they would like to identify (fibroblasts, neutrophils, myocites, etc) and the app would show markers that differentiate the populations from each other. Potentially, the app could suggest markers that would differentiate all of the populations from other cell types. For example, if the user wanted to differentiate between the different lymphocyte populations, the app would tell the user to use CD45 to eliminate non-lymphocytes, then CD19 to identify B cells, CD3 for T cells, CD11c for dendritic cells, etc.  Additionally, this could be reversed so that if the user has a population that they don't know how to characterize, the app can tell them the potential cell types for the given markers.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It will make identifying cell populations in flow cytometry much simpler.

Suggested by: Jackson Eby, jackson.eby(at)epfl.ch

Statistics Search Engine App

The idea

I've been thinking many time I would like to have an application on my iPhone that would give me statistics. A bit like the wolfram app, for example you enter a request like Christians in France and it would give you the percent of Christians living in France and other statistics concerning those two entries (Christians, France)... 

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It would help me writing

Tech specs

Data sources: Statistics organisms' databases like the INSEE in France for example.

Platforms: Phone, IPad and other smart phones

Suggested by: Morgan Flament morganflame(at)gmail.com

Open Lab Notebook App

The idea

E-Lab-book app. A diary/journal format app that researchers could use to record notes, protocols, tips, images, graphs, and results in a manner that is potentially openly accessible to the internet.  This would help avoid duplication of work and provide a more transparent system of research documentation.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Would promote digitalization and easier dissemination of daily-used tips and tricks used by scientists.

Suggested by: Pooja Rao  1985.pooja(at)gmail.com

Graphical Journey of the Universe App

The idea

A graphical journey of the universe. From the edge of the universe to the subatomic. Scroll around and click on objects, e.g. stars, to zoom in and get some information about the object. Zoom in further and see the processes involved with snippets of information of what's going on. Into the subatomic showing atoms with revolving electrons. Zoom in further to see the protons and neutrons. Electro magnetic fields etc. The scale could be from the big bang lots of color and energy, to the small, which could be a scroll through the universe and end up at earth, scroll in further to see the subatomic nature of matter. Could do it for biological organisms too, so scroll into an organism and see the genes and DNA and how these interact and create life. Concise info on each level of magnification. Good looking is paramount. 


On the journey through the universe you could 'stop off' at places, say a nebula, and see the formation of stars, the dying of stars, the creation of black holes and neutron stars. It would be fantastic, especially if the designers were anal with the level of detail.  

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It'll make science more open because people will be able to scroll from the very large to the very small in a factual and, most importantly, graphical way

Tech specs

Data sources: Scientific journals. The more data gathered the more detailed the app could be.

Platforms: All graphical platforms

Suggested by: ian_breaker(at)live.co.uk

All-in-one Molecular Biology Reference App

The idea

As a molecular biologist I yearn for an app that is an all-in-one periodic table, amino acid table, nucleotide bases and functional group encyclopedia.  A couple of apps exist (i.e. The Chemical Touch) that cover a few of these areas but none do everything.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

All the fundamental information for molecular bio/genetics will be accessible in your pocket.  No need for the internet, a textbook or posters.  It would be fabulous.

Tech specs

Data sources: All of the information for constructing this app is factual and can be found from most university molecular/biochem texts.

Platforms: iPhone, android, touch-based devices

Suggested by: Chris Langley  chris.r.langley(at)gmail.com

Genome Information Gathering App

The idea

An App that can import DNA data from all present available genotype/sequence formats and platforms (23andMe, completegenomics, etc), and that could be use as a tool to gather information about the genome in any possible way. For example, just to check a specific genotype from a specific position that just appeared in the news, or the information associated to a specific polymorphism or haplotype.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Add-ons could be implemented to add capabilities.

Tech specs

Data sources: Public Human Genome data and related databases like snpedia.

Platforms: IOS, Android, Symbian

Languages: Java, Perl

Suggested by: David de Lorenzo, david(at)delorenzo.com

Amateur Astronomy Website

The idea

Not so much an app idea as a website / service idea: It would be cool if amateur astronomers could agree via a forum or collaboration app or something to all take a picture of, say, Mars, through their telescopes. Their cameras could be connected to their laptops and the images would be sent via their wifi & internet or 3g phones to a server that can combine their images to create a sharper image. As more people submit / update their images the combined image would be updated and people could watch it evolving every few seconds. Much like optical astronomical interferometry where a number of widely distributed Earth-based telescopes act together as a larger telescope. 


I think there's something called the drizzle algorithm, which has an sdk (there's also something similar called stacking), and which could be used for combining the images.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Amateurs could combine their powers and have fun! It could help beginners learn how collaboration is a big part of science!

Suggested by: Greg Burke gregtheburke(at)gmail.com

Archaeology Fieldwork App

The idea

I'd like an app that streamlines archaeological field work. I have a lot of ideas, but I'll try to give the gist. Basically, you would start a "Project," and fill in the relevant information, e.g. State, Site Number, Site Name, GPS coordinates (taken from the phone's GPS), etc. 


After "Project" is "Forms." Forms are standardized, so you'd have to pick which type, based on regional National Park Service forms by default (MWAC, SWAC, etc). Maybe different forms and form styles could be added with updates. That could be in the "Project" setup screen. 


Finally, you choose a form to fill out (Excavation, Shovel Test, C-14, Human Remains, etc), and each form would have its requisite fields (Excavator Name, Screener Name, Shovel Test Number, Depth, Screen Mesh size, Map Coordinates, GPS Coordinates [again, taken from the phone's GPS] etc), while info from the "Project" would automatically appear in the form. You could have check boxes (Screened? etc) and a "Notes" box. There would be an artifacts section to list artifacts found, with an option to take pictures associated with them. Strata would have fields in order to detail their Munsell colors and soil types. Check the "Mottled?" box, and another Munsell field pops up for the same strata. Optionally, photos could be taken of the excavation, soil, artifact, etc, and tied to the form for reference. 


(With regard to soils: (1) Maybe throw in a small button that, when pressed, displays a short guide or flowchart to determining soil type. (2) I know this is would be impossible, due to licensing and variability in camera qualities, but it would be amazing to take a picture of soil and have the app determine the Munsell color - that could be an app all by itself.) 


The crowning payoff: All of the forms export to a single Word document, determined by the Form Type (MWAC, SWAC, etc), with empty fields to be filled in at the office, if need be. These could even be sent from each excavator to the principal investigator. The PI could then "Combine Projects" which would compile all of the forms into one collection, ready for export. Most of the time, forms that are filled out during fieldwork become dirty, muddy, sweaty, and crumpled, so more times than not they are rewritten on clean sheets in legible handwriting back in the lab. This app would cut paper consumption and cost in half, as well as increase labor-cost. 


I call it "Shovel Bum Pro." I would love to discuss it more. Thank you.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It will streamline the process of paperwork, and keep field notes consistent. Consistency is key when a dozen people are recording data, and it would lead to much better archaeological interpretation.

Suggested by: Dick Powis richard.powis(at)gmail.com

Experimental Protocol Reference App

The idea

Link the experimental protocols used by different labs on the same technique. Merits and demerits of each can be linked.  

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

It will accelerate the research and broaden the knowledge.

Suggested by: anton ilango : antonilango(at)hotmail.com

Better Cite-and-Write Software

The idea

…I just want a reference to go from pubmed (or any database) into my text where it can be formatted, reformatted, reordered and just do what its supposed to...I know everyone says they have cite and write, but they don't. Its copy and paste, or cite and crash, or cite and reformat.   I think word processors are old fashioned. I don't see why we can't take TinyMCE or other real text editor, and create an online environment that uses DOIs or a mysql database to format references within the text editor using a jquery or something like that.  Then you can connect it with Mendeley or other open sources. Also, the references would be accessible to the journal for proper formatting…

Tech specs

Data sources: Pubmed 

Languages: php/mysql/jquery

Platforms: Browsers/Online

Suggested by: Greg softwallcave(at)yahoo.ca

Floral Finder/Identifier App

The idea

An app which allows the user to take photographs of unidentified flora - and identify it. You take a photo, and the plant or flower is identified by way of an algorithm, before you receive an email or text back with info on the plant and a link where you can purchase it. Website linked with further information on birds, gardens and natural habitats as well as indigenous and foreign species. Links to RSPB and Royal Horticultural Society 


As well as email links back, the app would be linked to a website with information about related animals/butterflies and habitat, shopping features (buy seeds and plants) 

Tech specs

Platforms: I-phone and other internet enabled phones

Suggested by: Kate Vines katevines(at)gmail.com

ArXiv 2.0

The idea

An arxiv 2.0: an open source journal with inclusion of refereeing process based on volunteers, with an open access to the referees reports (i.e. publicly available reports, comments and replies by anyone), plus possibility to have video deposit for experiments, comments, ... 

It will allow both version updates of a paper (as it already exists on arXiv) and more transparency in the referring process. Moreover, the public referees reports might be of help to have several points of view on the dame research topic. 

Suggested by: anonymous

Web Browser Better Suited for Mathematical Expressions

The idea

A web browser which really displays mathematical expressions.  

Actually, for mathematical display on a screen, there is not so much choices: or we use lateX (or any software able to publish some equation, but then it is not in an open format) and then compile a pdf with bad display options (for instance, a lot of physics journals are in two columns formats which totally not adapted to screens), or we can use graphics (as in wikipedia) with the problem that zooming is impossible, and display layout are difficult to configure.  


I would like to have a browser able to display easily and beautifully mathematical expressions... but I definitely have no idea on how to do that :-(  


It must be as powerful as a latex to pdf conversion is in terms of mixing text and mathematics, but at the same time, easy to reflow and zoom as an html page is. 


Of course such a format will be more portable than latex for instance (which requires a complete compilation to be displayed), thus more universal, and will allow external software to share mathematical notes. That would be a really good staff!

Tech specs

Data sources: I know about mathml and other ersatz, but I believe the optimal mathematical display is still to be invented. Maybe the wikipedia latex to graphics converter is an excellent starting point, and maybe svg format would be of help. To me, is seems that vectorial graphics are the cornerstone between text and html display.

Suggested by: godzatswing(at)gmail.com

Bat Species Identifier App

The idea

An app for identifying bat species from the sounds they make. You would hold up the smart phone and it would record a sound and then give you a species' identification on the phone.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

This app would open up the nature world to non-specialists and help citizen science projects monitor the natural world more effectively.

Tech specs

Data sources: Reference libraries of bat calls; Identification algorithms for identifying parameters of the calls to species (I have one for Eurasia)

Platforms: iPhone and Android

Suggested by: Dr. Kate Jones kate.jones(at)ioz.ac.uk

"Natural Language" Buffer Recipe Maker

The idea

Why I cant I just type "50 mM tris-Hcl pH 7.8 using Sigma Trizma" and get an application to write me a buffer or solution recipe

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Make it easier to make buffer solutions

Tech specs

Data sources: Pubchem to get molecular weights and pKas and such. Sigma / Fisher/ VWR common chemical supplier websites to get formula weights and such

Platforms: Web-native

Languages: html/css, javascript

Suggested by: Hari Jayaram: harijay(at)gmail.com

Universal Interface for Liquid Handling Automation Robots

The idea

Universal interface for liquid handling automation robots. Automation in everyday laboratory procedures is seriously hampered by the lack of a universal standard among the three or four laboratory automation providers. It will be great to have a universal human readable/writeable automation standard for liquid handling instrumentation.

How it makes science more open or scientists' lives easier

Automation allows us to increase the complexity and throughput of experimentation. 

Tech specs

Data sources: A lot of liquid handling  automation products: Qiagen robot / Tecan Robot/ Hamilton robot/ Formlulatrix Formluator  all have custom software to handle simple tasks like serial dilutions , liquid gradients etc.  Typically this custom software is rather difficult to use and does not adhere to any usability principles. It will be nice to have a standard csv or tab delimited protocol format that all robots agree to use. And a utility that easily converts protocols between these machines

Platforms: Web-native

Languages: javascript/css

Suggested by: Hari Jayaram: harijay(at)gmail.com

Name That Logical Fallacy App

The idea

Some kind of 'name that logical fallacy' app where you enter a phrase and it suggests what it is?

Suggested by: CPoeticLicense

Citizen Science Measurement App

The idea

Citizen science measurement app (NYC Cricket Crawl) via GPS, photo, video, audio recording. Sends data in standardized format

Suggested by: mik3cap

Autism Research App

The idea

I need an app to organize and show sound, video, pictures and other stimuli to do research with autistic children.

Suggested by: luizbfreitas

Feces Bacterial Composition App

The idea

"Unrealistic suggestion for an app: take a picture of a poo and lets you know its bacterial composition" [Editors note: Why not?]

Suggested by: yowino

Better Text Search for Figure Legends

The idea

App idea: restrict text search to figure legends. Results should include link to published figure online + email of corresponding author for permission request + links ref. publications in legend.

Suggested by: LourencoZe



Birdsong and Frog Call Identifier App

The idea

I’d really love an app that could identify birdsong and frog calls. You could record the sounds, it checks a database, and gives you potential matches. It’d also have a function where you could type in the name of a species, and it plays audio of the call/song. It could have different versions for different regions. The first region, naturally, would be Sydney, Australia.

Suggested by: Margaret Morgan

Microbiology Search App

The idea

I'd like a microbiology app that allowed you to search based on species or test results. You could enter E. coli. and find out if it's gram + or -, or you could say you have a gram - cocci and see what it might be. It could also have further information, like pictures of colonies, virulence dangers, discoverer, etc..

Suggested by: NH King

Richard Dawkins-related Apps

The idea

Is there a Richard Dawkins biomorph from The Blind Watchmaker app for the devices you have in mind? Or even a Conway's Game of Life app

Suggested by: halucigenia

Right- and Left-Brain Stimulating Learning App

The idea

Is there already an app that allows you to learn information in a way that stimulates both hemispheres of the brain? It would be handy for people who are predominantly right brained but would like to be able to understand scientific reasoning. Another idea is an app that can measure the strength of your cognitive abilities and tell you what kinds of people/activities would be most interesting for you to engage with. That is, of course, if such apps do not already exist.

Suggested by: roisin.ni.mhorain