By the Numbers

How many likes does your page have? How many followers do you have? How many reads for that particular blog post? Page views? Downloads? Number of times cited? Impact factor? In the online world, much of life is lived by the numbers.

When the Journal of Chemical Education switched to the ACS Pubs web platform, a feature I came back to regularly was the “Most Read” tab on the home page. You can get a snapshot of what’s being read most often in JCE; it offers a 1 month and a 12 month list, updated on a monthly basis. I was always curious to see what drew readers. What freely available content topped the list? Which articles open to subscribers only were popular reads? What continued to top the list from month to month? And then, to ask—why?

Sometimes I could connect some of the top reads to another event. For example, one month many of the articles had been part of a collection of Earth-Day-related articles offered as free downloads. Another time, the mention of an article in Chemical & Engineering News sparked a rush of reads.

Why do we choose to read what we read in journals such as JCE? Maybe it relates to content that’s coming up soon in the curriculum. Maybe you’re looking for a fresh take on a topic to spice up your teaching. Maybe it’s a review of a book you’ve been considering for the classroom. Maybe the pictures piqued your interest. Maybe you know the author. My collection of experiences, interests, and educational needs drives my choices. A piece that describes a hands-on activity that uses consumer chemicals? Bookmarked. A lab for a second-year organic course? Probably not.

Until now. I’m stepping outside of my reading comfort zone. My occasional peeks at the 12 month list have shown the 1983 article “Cyclic Voltammetry” topping the list for some time.  I’ve been wondering what’s been driving the downloads. Perhaps a class that requires it as background? I’m not familiar with the topic, so anything I can take away from the article will be new. The introduction of the article states: “It is not uncommon for the experimenter who is performing CV [cyclic voltammetry] to have a poor understanding of the basic concepts of the technique, such as why the voltammograms have their peculiar shapes. … The authors intend this to be suitable for a supplement to an undergraduate course in instrumental analysis or as an ‘initial reference’ for anyone embarking on a CV experiment for the first time.” Even though I won’t be using the techniques any time soon, I’ve been able to learn a bit when one might use it and what leads to the unusual shapes of voltammograms. 

Will you branch out from your familiar choices? What are you reading?

Join the conversation.

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Comments 4

Lowell Thomson's picture
Lowell Thomson | Fri, 03/28/2014 - 23:37


Thanks for this post. I hadn't noticed the "Most Read" feature and will take a look. My tactic: Each time a new article comes out I go through the articles and add anything interesting to ACS ChemWorx. As you mentioned, this is often based on what I'm teaching. Then I go my my iPad app and try to sort them into categories (aka collections). Truthfully, I probably only actually read about a third of all of the articles that I select. But I really like having the collections. When I'm teaching a new topic, I'll browse the collections to see if I have any articles saved that relate. Sometimes I'll also take time to browse previous issues to build the collections.

And now I'll be looking for 'Most Read' to see what comes my way also. 



Erica Jacobsen's picture
Erica Jacobsen | Sat, 03/29/2014 - 10:38


Great idea to gather your selections in ACS ChemWorx. I dabbled a bit in it when it first came out, but should really explore further. Love the idea of organizing your selections into categories so you can browse later for related articles. Then you know there's already a pre-selected "buffet of ideas" ready when you head into something new.


Tom Kuntzleman's picture
Tom Kuntzleman | Mon, 03/31/2014 - 14:20


As you mention, I tend to read articles that help me brush up upcoming topics.  What I love about JCE is that I always seem to be able to find some interesting twist or new information regarding the topics I teach.  I am always able to learn something new and interesting in JCE articles!  One of my favorite articles of this type is "E = mc2 for the Chemist: When Is Mass Conserved?" by Richard Treptow.  In this article, Treptow debunks the misconception that mass is converted into energy (or vice versa) in nuclear reactions.  That's right, the law of conservation of mass even applies to nuclear reactions.  The trick is making sure you understand the law of conservation of mass applies to the universe, and not just the reaction under consideration.  While the atoms involved in a nuclear reaction often lose mass, that mass gets transferred to the surroundings.  Check out the article, it is an intersesting read.    

Erica Jacobsen's picture
Erica Jacobsen | Mon, 03/31/2014 - 17:47


Thanks for the article recommendation. I just added it to my ACS ChemWorx library.

So true about always finding interesting twists in JCE articles. Your mention of that brought one immediately to mind, even though it's already over ten years since it was published. "The Write Stuff: Using Paper Chromatography to Separate an Ink Mixture" is a JCE Classroom Activity published in 2000. It took the ordinary paper chromatography separation of a black marker, but added the twist of varying the solvents with household materials (water, vinegar, ammonia, rubbing alcohol, and combinations of them). So simple, but expands the experience for students.