Academic Technology @ Palomar College

Great Free iPad Science Apps

While there are some spectacular for-pay iPad science apps (as noted in the text below) finding really good free ones is not so easy.  Here are a few of my nominees across several disciplines.

Chemistry: The Periodic Table

You can’t beat Theodore Gray’s “The Elements,” except that the price is a hefty (by app standards) $13.99.  It is really just another part of the marketing scheme for Gray’s book, deck or element cards, even 3D glasses, all priced separately.  It is notable for its tie-ins to Wolfram Alpha, however, and is a superior app.  A basic yet satisfying alternative, however is EMD PTE, the Periodic Table of Elements by EMD Chemicals (a division of Merck).

Periodic Table

Touch an element’s symbol to bring up an informational block, flip the block to find General information, Basic Physical information (melting/boiling points, electronegativity, atomic radius, electron configuration, etc.), Discoverer (and by the way, if you haven’t read it yet, Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon is a fantastic book on the discovery of elements presented in the most entertaining way possible), element Picture, and Products for analytic testing.  Tapping the M in the upper left corner brings out a menu that allows for 1) searching; 2) filtering by classifications; 3) atomic properties (radius, electronegativity, ionization energy, and relative atomic mass); 4) state at room temperature (see illustration below, showing a unique slider approach to state at temperature, only Carbon and Tungsten are indicated as solid at 6100 F.);  5) a property ranking sortable by criteria (symbol, atomic number, relative atomic mass, density at 68 F., melting point, boiling point, electronegativity, and percentage of earth’s crust); 6) year of discovery (using the same, unique timeline slider control); 7) molar mass calculator (this alone makes the tool valuable); 8) and a very thorough glossary.

 State at Temperature

Except for using degrees F instead of C, this is a great free tool that should replace all those pricey slick study brochures that jab students about $7.95 each.  Hey, Merck can afford it.

Brain Anatomy

While Brain Pro from 3D4Medical ($9.99) is an excellent for-pay brain anatomy app, with enough detail to satisfy advanced students, two good, basic (and free) brain anatomy programs may meet the needs of students in introductory courses that simply touch on brain anatomy.  They are 3D Brain, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Brain MRI Atlas, from

3D Brain opens by default in whole-brain view, the view being rotatable, of course, and its Structures index allows for display of 29 different rotatable structures.  Illustrated below is a view of Temporal Lobes with the Labels feature turned on and part of the overall structures menu showing.

Temporal Lobes with Labels

The information button (the T tool on the illustration above) varies with each structure, and provides 1) an Overview description of the structure; 2) famous case studies related to the structure; 3) associated functions of the structure; 4) associated cognitive disorders; 5) other associated disorders; 6) related sub-structures; and, best of all, 7) Links out to Pubmed articles and links.  These external links (which display in the Safari browser on the iPad if touched) are naturally very limited, but might be a logical starting place for student research.  For example, the Limbic System display suggests links to seven important articles, linked and cited with Pubmed numbers, related to pathologies or medical discoveries.  The app ingeniously contains a great deal of specific information in a pleasing interactive interface, and as such is fully searchable.

Brain MRI Atlas is not so sophisticated or interactive, but might serve as a good introduction to brain anatomy working from MRI cross sections.  It shows 31 labeled and color coded views in sequence (see illustration below), with controls for filtering based on 1) Vessels; 2) Ventricles; 3) Deep Brain; 4) Cerebellu; 5) Gyri; 6) Sulci; and 7) Nerves.  That’s it.  Just labeled pictures, really, but since they are MRI images it makes a good companion to the 3D Brain app.

MRI Brain Anatomy

Earth Sciences

The NASA Visualization Explorer is your tax dollars at work bringing world class science to your iPad.  The app is a product of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and publishes multimedia stories based on current earth satellite missions and related research.  Each story contains a textual description, usually one or more videos, some with audio some without, and usually a series of still photo illustrations.  The video below is the YouTube version of the video you will see associated with the “Arlene to Zeta” story, an explanation for the atypically high number of Atlantic basin hurricanes in 2005 (the year of Katrina).

The stories are gleaned from research findings related to NASA’s fleet of earth observing satellites, and are more often than not related to climate science, though there are stories on astronomy and even exobiology.  The graphics are stunning and the data authoritative.


Science360 for iPad is a terrific set of science-related videos from the National Science Foundation (your tax dollars at work again, in a really positive way).  Picture yourself within a sphere with images and videos to select lining it’s inner surface.  That is the anaology for this app.  Some of the videos derive from NBC Learn, others by independent producers receiving grants from the NSF.  Some of the still images are really interesting, with longish descriptions taken from papers which are cited by title, usually, but without formal citation (see illustration below).  For a quick take on current science topics its a great, free resource.


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