Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

One of the nicest things about about going to scientific meetings is that you get to meet interesting people.  Instead of swapping cards and going about your way, in the modern world social media allows you to stay in touch more frequently personally while sharing cancer and scientific information over time. The discussions can be very insightful and enriching.

Two recent PhDs from MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), Drs Angela Alexander and Jeannine Garnett are two of those research scientists I met while at cancer meetings and now keep in touch with – congratulations on your well earned doctorates this summer, ladies!

Angela recently started a nice blog The Cancer Geek and posted an extensive review of how she uses her iPad during the day, including a summary of some of her favourite apps. Check it out, it’s well worth reading!

Funnily enough, I use many of the same apps and a few different ones too.  Not surprisingly, our workflow is a little different, given the diversity of things we’re both involved with.  Since there’s no active bench research here at Icarus, there’s no need to order supplies.  However, I thought for fun it would be a idea to take a leaf out of Angela’s book and take look at what’s on my iPad and how I use it. Here’s my home screen:

iPad Home Screen

After much trial and error, I decided to keep the top most used apps on the main screen (they do change over time with usage and circumstances eg the ESPN Fantasy Football app disappears when the season is over) and organise all the other less used ones into folders in a library screen. On the other two screens I dragged and dropped things into folders such as tools, productivity, books, audio etc and use Search on the home screen to find things quickly like this:

iPad Library Screen

This is much more productive than scrolling through looking for the app you need in a multitude of folders.  The app usually comes up in the list after 2-3 letters are typed. Some basic caveats – at home or in the office the iPad is mainly used as a consumption devise to browse (on Safari or Atomic), read (iBooksGoodreader, AACR Journals), check RSS and blog feeds (BW RSS, Feedly, Reeder), see what hot in Twitter (Echofon and Flipboard) or listen (iPod or Spotify for music, Science podcasts, AACR Webcasts app, Instacast for podcasts such as one of my favourites, MacPowerUsers).

The reason for focus on consumption over creation is that the desktop and laptop are much more powerful and heavy duty for content creation. However, there are some cool tools for capturing drawings and scribbles such as Penultimate and Listary, which is excellent for syncing a quick To-Do list between the iPad and iPhone.

On the road though, the iPad becomes a very nifty and efficient creation tool that fits my workflow at scientific congresses nicely.  Yes, I have taken just the iPad to conferences and left the laptop behind without much difficulty.  That was liberating!

There are some nifty productivity To Do apps out there such as Things and OmniFocus (I prefer the latter) in addition to password security, which I highly recommend in case your iPad goes missing – 1Password is my personal favourite.

One important point to note – I truly detest the shackles of Microsoft Office and have never been a big fan of the bloatware it has become.  Years ago, while doing my PhD, the Physiology unit started migrating from WordPerfect, with its fast keyboard shortcuts and better graphic integration tools, to Word.  The constant fiddling with autochanges to formatting, size and scaling drove me potty then and I still scowl if I have to use any of the apps with the exception of Excel, although the simplicity of Lotus 1-2-3 and its macros and keyboard slashkeys is a happy memory to this day.

PC and Windows users are very much stuck in the world of files organised into folders, but many Mac tools and the iPad in particular don’t work this way, so the thinking behind it is rather different.  Think cloud apps and sync through Dropbox or searching for things based on Tagging, much in the same way that other apps such as Gmail, various text editors and Evernote work.  This is the way of the future for many and is a much more efficient way to find and store data.

With this in mind, most of my writing (and I do a lot of it as a consultant and blogger) is done in plain text – simple, elegant and infinitely more useful.  It took me a while to settle down with one system, but now I’m very happy with Simplenote on the iPad, iPhone or desktop and Notational Velocity Alt (nvALT) on the desktop.  They sync beautifully together once you enter your username/password.  This guarantees a natural backup will always be there. Some of the data is also synced to Dropbox.

Surprisingly, I now have thousands of blog posts, snippets, text and notes accrued in this handy text sync system. While walking around at cancer meetings, I take quick notes of interesting things from the posters or add quotes from chats with presenters straight into Simplenote on the iPad. For oral presentations, these go much faster than my typing skills allow, so I write long hand in my Moleskine and add notes manually in a quiet moment later so that they become searchable and re-usable.

John Gruber’s awesome Markdown syntax (discussed in Daring Fireball) and Fletcher Penny’s Multimarkdown are tools I make use of a lot, especially as conversion tools allows me to preview the text and then convert it to html for cutting and pasting into WordPress, the platform used for this blog. Text Expander Touch on the iPad uses the same master shortcut file as the desktop/laptop versions and makes repetitive typing of various tumour types, for example, so much faster!

Text or RTF files created in apps on the iPad can be synced via Dropbox for later use and aggregation in various desktop apps. I save Markdown notes and snippets as text files in Simplenote or Elements and once on a laptop, drag them to Marked, a cocoa desktop app from Brett Terpestra to preview and convert into html for blog posts or text for reports.

Scrivener is my Word Processor of choice these days, not Word, because it is simply superb for technical research and writing.  I can’t wait for the makers to come out with an iPad app! For now, I use different creating tools on the iPad since Scrivener supports a host of different inputs from TXT or RTF files that have been created on the iPad, whether from Simplenote, Index Cards (great for creating an outline), iThoughtsHD (a mind map tool) or Evernote, where I clip and store interesting websites.

Creating short and long form articles, posts and reports is really easy and much faster in Scrivener when you are focusing on the content and not the formatting.  Since the export function is very versatile, you can also create different documents formatted as PDFs, LaTeX or epub format (for the Kindle), whichever you choose to apply. Overall, I have found this tool to be extremely versatile and saves me a lot of time.

Other iPad apps I enjoy using include iKinase, which provides a handy tool for finding protein and chemical structures for small molecules and Molecules, which shows 3D molecular structures that you can manipulate with your fingers – very cool.

When travelling, I love the TripIt app for keeping me straight on flight and hotel details, which it picks up from emails sent to my business account and creates itineraries automatically.  On the road, though, I tend to use the iPhone more than the iPad for viewing the details as it is smaller and more mobile while waiting at a taxi line.  The maps produced from the destination are useful for finding your way around or telling the cab driver where to go!

Another app I have on both my iPhone and iPad are QR code readers but the reality is that it’s much easier to get the code from an iPhone, especially if the code is awkwardly placed on a poster.

Need an app for curating your expenses on the road?  iXpenseIt is useful for tracking cash receipts rather than losing or forgetting about them.  Many banks also now have iPhone and iPad apps that are worth checking out for scanning checks and checking expenses.

Wondering what one of my favourite apps is?  Try the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) quarterly bulletin – a truly beautiful combination of art and science that is a pleasure to read.  Reading medical journals on the iPad is also a delight – I read Nature, NEJM and AACR journals regularly on the iPad and download articles as PDFs for easy reading offline while travelling in iBooks.

Overall, I love my iPad as a consumption tool and travel with it regularly to cancer conferences along with my Moleskine and also a laptop for more heavy duty work.  There is something about the iPad that makes it hard to put down.

18 Responses to “iPad apps for science and medicine”

  1. Michelle Gill

    This is a spectacular list of iPad apps, Sally. In addition to Molecules, you may want to checkout iMolview which has more customizations than Molecules and it will work when displaying the iPad’s screen on a projector. (I don’t think Molecules will do this.)

    I’ve scoured the shelves of the App Store in search of the perfect note taking app for seminars and lectures. None of them contain everything I want, but there are lots of good things scattered among them. This is a blog post *I* need to write!

    • maverickny

      Thanks, Michelle! I blame Angela for the original awesome post inspiration 🙂

      I have tried many many note taking apps from Notes to Notesy to Elements to Evernote to Notebooks to TextWrangler and well, plenty of others…  In the end, I kept going back to Simplenote and settled on that as it syncs so well to nvALT on the other Macs. Will look forward to your detailed review 🙂

      Will definitely check out iMolview, that’s a new one for me.

    • Anonymous

      Molecules supports the screen mirroring mode of the iPad 2, which works extremely well (there’s no slowdown over just rendering on the main touchscreen).  I tried to get the external display output working on the original iPad, but something prevented my particular rendering style from presenting on that output.  I gave up on support for this after I saw how well the iPad 2 handled mirroring.  With the iOS 5.0 AirPlay support for doing this mirroring to a screen via an AppleTV, I can see a lot of teachers having a compelling reason to use an iPad 2 for their classes.

      Michelle’s right in that iMolView has a boatload of features that I probably never will get around to implementing.  MolSoft seems to be putting a lot of effort behind the porting of their desktop modeling packages to the iPad.  Molecules is just a hobby project for me.

      • maverickny

        Molecules do indeed rotate on the iPad2 and look beautiful – I showed it to a scientist at a medical conference once and he just gasped :D. Never tried it with an external projector though, if it’s just a hobby, it’s a pretty darn slick one!

    • Raphael

      great blog, Sally. I am using this DocsToGo but I can’t find any track change function.You can always have your laptop word processor compare docs but it would be nice to have this function on iPad app.


  2. Mail

    Great and useful post, Sally. I too use SimpleNote on iPhone and iPad. Then I do my main writing in Scrivener on my iMac. But have you tried recording apps for lectures ? I use IProRecorder and then I am sure not to miss anything, especially when things get a bit technical. But there are several recording apps to try. I also like Dragon’s app. Just say what you want and it types for you. I am a terrible typer. Lastly I find Tweedeck doesn’t load as fast on my iPad as my iPhone so I mostly look at twitter on my iPhone. But I like to read the longer content of Google + on my iPad.

    • maverickny

      Hi Ellen, yes I have an audio recorder that sometimes gets used for interviews with KOLs or recording important lectures, but have not tried iProRecorder – will give that a try.

      Dragon I do have but it seems to work best with American accents as my thick British accent produces unreliable but absolutely hilarious results 😀

  3. Anthony M

    Thanks for this review!  My group is trying to decide whether to get iPads for conferences and this will be very useful.  Also, thanks for the comments on WordPerfect and Lotus 123, I thought I was the only one that remembered these excellent programs.  (before the Microsoft monopoly destroyed them)

    • maverickny

      Hi Anthony, ah yes, we are both showing our age 😀

      Couple of other points to consider: 

      1) the iPad is great for reading/responding to email, although I’m not sure how it works with VPNs, but it does work well with Microsoft Exchange

      2) it doesn’t have a USB flash key or SD card slot, so if taking photos at big conferences I always have a laptop handy for transferring and sharing them with others (ie in hotel room or somewhere safe for access)

      3) Apple Keynote and Pages apps (about $10 each) will allow you to read/edit Word and PPT files (as well as the one mentioned in the link above). Would still recommend a laptop for writing a PPT deck from scratch though.

      4) PDFs will read natively easily on the screen, but Goodreader is great for adding comments on them then sending back to others

      5) QR code reader apps are increasingly necessary for accessing copies of posters at conferences, as many are switching from paper to electronic copies and these work great on the iPad as it has a good camera – much better than BB’s

      6) Dropbox is probably the most useful app for sharing large files with people

      7) Conference schedules and programs (in Word, Excel, PDF) absolutely rock on the iPad as they are easy to read on the bigger screen and are lighter!  Added to alerts, they will keep your team on track and highly organised 🙂

        • maverickny

          Well, they are very different applications that do different tasks, so comparing them is a bit like looking at apples and oranges.

          Dropbox is a virtual repository or library of files (text, data, music, video, whatever) created elsewhere that allows you to either share across several of your own computers (desktop, laptop, smartphone) or with multiple people whom you give access by invitation. It’s a conduit, if you like, much like FTP used to be.

          Google Docs is more like an online version of Microsoft Office where you create written documents similar to PowerPoint or Word and either keep them to yourself or share access with others. In the latter case, two or more people can be editing such a file at once.

          • Raphael

            Thanks Sally, very useful. So basically GoogleDocs can work as stand alone whereas Dropbox will need an editor such as DataViz’ Doc-to-go

            Enjoy Stockholm!

  4. Devon Sullera

    One good app for this matter is the Ghostwriter Notes app available via

    It is because you can sketch stuffs here, whether it is for education or for business, you can trust this app. I personally use it and it really aides my needs everyday.

  5. Nitin

    more and more health apps coming to the market. it was a nice article..good read. We have also developed this full working patient care app for iPad users. easy to use, secure (password protected) and easy to afford. Good supplement
    tool even if you have subscribe to web based EHR apps or other iPad patient care apps. visit this website to find out more: or download via iTunes:…  Tags: iPad EMR EHR Patient Care App Patient TrackMate electronic health record prescription manager notes taking ability physician medical healthcare users. We are continually making our apps better and stay up to the date with the trends, markets and features being asked by our esteemed users.

  6. Wolfgang Rumpf

    Another fantastic app for scientists is CERF – it’s an ELN (electronic lab notebook) which lets users securely document all of their research (data is stored on the cloud on a 21CFR11 compliant server) and share it with Colleagues of their choosing – basically it’s not just research documentation but social networking all rolled up in one.  And the Find Experts feature lets you find other scientists who are working on things you’re interested in – it cleverly looks at the real science, not just some hopped-up profile.  Very cool!

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