Advanced Organic Chemistry: finding information

The leap from textbook study to the chemical research literature is a veritable Grand Canyon, and it's a long way to the bottom. What do you need to know about resources before launching yourself into the void? This weblet is an attempt to provide springboard, parachute, water wings... but it's my first attempt, so your feedback on what is useful (and not) or missing would be helpful to me and to other future users. Please don't hesitate to e-mail your comments and suggestions to me (Hugh Blackmer, Science Librarian).
We need to consider the question of information retrieval in chemistry, which takes several forms: sometimes you need to find what's been done in the lab and what's been written about some substance (a literature problem), but again and again you'll be presented with the question what IS this stuff? --sometimes with a sample, sometimes with a name, sometimes with a molecular structure. We'll talk about different ways to approach finding answers, keeping in mind that (in general) you should look in many places, because you'll find different sorts of things by exploring. Here's a link to an example of a specific searching problem.

Some Reference Resources

A good starting place:

 AUTHOR       Beyer, Hans, 1905-1971.
 TITLE        Lehrbuch der organischen Chemie. English.
              Handbook of organic chemistry / [Hans Beyer], Wolfgang Walter ;
 PUBLISHER    London ; New York : Prentice Hall, 1996.
 NOTE         Translated and amended from the 22nd German ed.
 SUBJECT      Chemistry, Organic.
 Science-Reference      QD251.2 .B4813 1996            LIB USE ONLY
This is a Lehrbuch: a text-book in the European style, a companion, a summary, a reference, accessible to beginner as well as expert. Its organization is primarily by kinds of compounds (aliphatic, aromatic, heterocyclic, etc.), with a hefty subject index. Great for quick review.

For chemical names, synonyms, CAS Registry Numbers:

      AUTHOR       Howard, Philip H. (Philip Hall), 1943-
      TITLE        Dictionary of chemical names and synonyms 
      PUBLISHER    Boca Raton : Lewis Publishers, c1992.
      Science-Reference      TP9 .H65 1992
ChemFinder is often faster for Registry Numbers.

For practical background:

      TITLE        Kirk-Othmer Concise encyclopedia of chemical technology.
      PUBLISHER    New York : Wiley, 1999.
      Science-Reference      TP9 .K54 1999 
A single-volume condensation of the 24-volume Kirk-Othmer ("The Bible of chemical technology"), emphasizing industrial chemistry, but often a useful source of basic practical information.

Another starting place: take time to wander the shelves from QD251 to QD452 --where most of the organic chemistry book holdings can be found. Just a scan of titles can provoke thought and store away terminology for future use; a number of monograph series (like the 50-odd volumes of Academic Press Organic Chemistry) are sprinkled through the collection. Once you have a specific topic it's essential to do a keyword (W) search in ANNIE --it's surprising how extensive our monographic holdings are in chemistry.

Other references, handbooks, treatises

There is a bewildering (at least initially) array of resources in the QD section. Here's a brief preliminary guide to some of them, with suggested uses:

Chemical Abstracts

(this is now practically obsolete, thanks to SciFinder Scholar...s ee my page documenting our trail of SFS . I'll leave it here as a Monument...)
ChemAbs (CA) is another of those hurdles for the student of chemistry: the series is truly humongous, and labyrinthine to boot. It's an essential tool, but it's no small thing to learn its use. Electronic versions may make CA more approachable, but sometimes it's necessary to deal with it in paper. Here's a bare-bones introduction, organized by characteristics of chemical substances which can be searched:

ChemAbs collects the abstracts of articles (and books and reports) published in the thousands of journals that make up the primary and secondary literature of Chemistry. The indexes (sketched above) help you to find the needle you're looking for (articles on a subject or substance) in the vast haystack of published material. Every week another 5-6 pounds of paper arrives in the Library; every 6 months CAS produces a volume index for that 6 months. An exhaustive search of the paper form of CA means looking in LOTS of 6-month indexes --about 16 years' worth, back to the 10th Collective Index of 1981, and then through quinquennial and decennial indexes back to the beginning [1907]. That search nets you a bibliography of sources (articles, etc.) which can then be quarried for the information in their text and in their bibliographies.

Perhaps it's as useful to look at/compare some summaries of ChemAbs use:

Patent literature

Patents can be enormously useful as sources of background information, since any claim for a patent must be supported by what amounts to a literature review and explanation of how the innovation fits with and enlarges 'state of the art'. There's a web interface to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with a full-text database of patents. You'll probably want to consult with me about patent searching if your topic takes you in that direction.

Some WWW links

13 April 2000
This week's Science has a news story about Taxol, a "cancer drug... harvested from the needles of an endangered tree..." which now seems to be present in some more common species. Taxol is "generically known as paclitaxel", and makes an interesting example of something to search for.

I tried ChemFinder with 'paclitaxel' as the search term and got this result, enough to get me started with a Registry Number and a picture of the molecule.