A holiday for mobile science: Merry Newtonmas!

By Jonathan Crowl

When mobile technology first became available to the masses, it immediately transformed the way of doing business for many industries. Not so for scientists. Many of the benefits attached to smartphones actually presented some liabilities to laboratory researchers: Cloud storage was not secure enough to house research findings, cell phone signals could disrupt equipment, mobile devices could carry in contaminants or ferry chemicals out of laboratories and into the public sphere. It initially seemed as though mobile science was an extension of research that was best avoided.

Gradually, though, those opinions have shifted. As smartphones saturated society, laboratories developed policies to handle them. Some of the fears regarding mobile devices turned out to be exaggerations, while others were met with reasonable solutions and methods of prevention. Now, mobile devices aren’t banned from the lab; instead, they’re supporting research within that domain, and helping scientists continue their work from remote locations.

On the birthday of Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists in history, it only makes sense to highlight how leading scientists are using innovative technologies to push research and development even farther into the future — particularly when scientists aren’t present in the lab.

Monitoring research remotely

Depending on the lab you work in, as well as the sensitivity of your data, cloud storage may still be a no-no. But mobile devices can still be used to monitor research and other activities in progress. A smartphone can interface with other lab equipment to provide scientists with information on how various laboratory processes are progressing.

If irregularities are detected, scientists can simply call into the lab and alert technicians or other personnel who can run through whatever tasks the scientist gives them. As PubChase points out, this frees up scientists to spend their time doing other things important to their research, whether it involves field work, presenting findings or simply enjoying a little rest and relaxation.

Custom instrument extensions

Over time, smartphones may take on a larger role in actual hands-on lab work thanks to innovative instrument extensions. These extensions can leverage the mobile technology inside a smartphone or tablet to wield that device as a piece of lab equipment. As Nature points out, inventors have created nanosensor detectors for airborne chemicals that can be plugged into a smartphone, as well as microscopes that interface with a device’s camera.

While some of these items are designed to make lab equipment portable and available to various field workers, some labs might opt for similar in-house tools, particularly if these tools can be acquired at a lower cost than their specialized counterparts. If nothing else, these innovations demonstrate how high the ceiling is when it comes to mobile science tools.

Mobile content to stay on top of trends

Accessing research and reading the latest journal reports is a big part of working in the science field, and mobile technology makes this easier than ever. A smartphone or tablet can be equipped with e-readers for various scientific journals and periodicals, providing a quick, seamless outlet for reading new research and searching for old reports and papers. Scientists can pull up this research while standing at their lab station, rather than shuffling off to the library or, worse, asking a librarian to pull an issue out of the archives.

It may seem like a basic function of mobile devices, but this increased access to research ultimately makes scientists better informed about their own work, and it improves their productivity by making information available on-the-fly, whether in the lab or in the field.

Even in the most innovative settings, mobile technology is improving productivity and the quality of work, enabling scientists to do more with less. Sir Issac Newton would be proud. Happy Newtonmas!