Chemical & Engineering News

The Wonderful Web Of Chemistry Data

ChemConnector recounts the emergence of online chemical databases

Antony Williams

WilliamsWhile working at Eastman Kodak in the mid-1990s, long before phones were our cameras of choice, I was involved in building a Web-based system for organizing the company’s analytical data. Simply put, my team’s motto was, “The Web Is the Way.” Although we didn’t know exactly where Web technology would take us, it was clear online tools were going to be important.

I left Eastman in 1997 to join a small cheminformatics start-up company that was simultaneously developing ways of delivering cheminformatics programs via desktop software and via the Web.

In 2006, a friend and I decided that access to the explosion of chemistry data appearing online should be facilitated by a central hub with a chemical search service. So we developed ChemSpider, a free Web-based, crowdsourced database connecting various sources of information about chemicals. ChemSpider went live with more than 10 million chemicals early the next year. Following an acquisition by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the site now holds data for more than 30 million chemicals drawn from almost 500 sources.

Today, there are many free chemistry databases available, including NIH’s PubChem and EBI’s ChEMBL. The Web is still the way, but with one difference: We all take it for granted now. We are generally one free search away from finding data or information to help us on our journey of investigation and discovery.

Antony Williams is known for establishing ChemSpider, the online chemical database. Now at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he blogs about chemistry at

Peter Stang

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