The Understanding Reporter from

31 Mar

I get interviewed quite regularly regarding ChemSpider, my views on Open Data and data quality on the internet, as well as general comments about the chemistry data explosion online. So, when I was interviewed recently for the online article “Chemistry’s web of data expands” I was more than happy to give my thoughts regarding patent data coming online, data quality and the need for standards for handling chemistry data.

One of the parts of the conversation was regarding the work put in to clean up chemistry data on Wikipedia. What seems like an eternity ago I did “Dedicate Christmas Time to the Cause of Curating Chemistry on Wikipedia” and initiated a project to check every chemical compound on Wikipedia, bond by bond, atom by atom. However, I very quickly connected with Walkerma who then introduced me to a number of other Wikipedia Chemistry people. I started participating in IRC Chats with this group and we started exchanging comments about how we could move the project along. It was a pleasure to work with the team and while I did continue to participate it was nowhere near the level that I had contributed in the early days of the project. The project was a collaborative effort for sure, one of the best I have been involved with over the past few years.

When the original article on Nature.Com was published it stated “In fact, notes Williams, Wikipedia proved the most reliable source of structure information in that experiment – largely because he had led an effort to clean up the site’s 13,000 structures.” I definitely didn’t want that statement in the article and had specifically requested that I was represented as being part of a collaborative effort. I did not lead the project…I was a part of it only. So, with a couple of email exchanges with the author of the article, Richard van Noorden, the language was changed to “In fact, notes Williams, Wikipedia proved the most reliable online source of structure information in that experiment – largely because of an effort to clean up the site’s 13,000 pages about drugs and chemicals”. It’s a subtle edit but I definitely did not want to carry the responsibility for leading a project that was an ideal representation of crowdsourcing, collaboration and caring for chemistry on Wikipedia. And, to clarify…I know for a fact that all pages are not fully curated and validated yet…it’s a long process!!!


About tony

Antony (Tony) J. Williams received his BSc in 1985 from the University of Liverpool (UK) and PhD in 1988 from the University of London (UK). His PhD research interests were in studying the effects of high pressure on molecular motions within lubricant related systems using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. He moved to Ottawa, Canada to work for the National Research Council performing fundamental research on the electron paramagnetic resonance of radicals trapped in single crystals. Following his postdoctoral position he became the NMR Facility Manager for Ottawa University. Tony joined the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York as their NMR Technology Leader. He led the laboratory to develop quality control across multiple spectroscopy labs and helped establish walk-up laboratories providing NMR, LC-MS and other forms of spectroscopy to hundreds of chemists across multiple sites. This included the delivery of spectroscopic data to the desktop, automated processing and his initial interests in computer-assisted structure elucidation (CASE) systems. He also worked with a team to develop the worlds’ first web-based LIMS system, WIMS, capable of allowing chemical structure searching and spectral display. With his developing cheminformatic skills and passion for data management he left corporate America to join a small start-up company working out of Toronto, Canada. He joined ACD/Labs as their NMR Product Manager and various roles, including Chief Science Officer, during his 10 years with the company. His responsibilities included managing over 50 products at one time prior to developing a product management team, managing sales, marketing, technical support and technical services. ACD/Labs was one of Canada’s Fast 50 Tech Companies, and Forbes Fast 500 companies in 2001. His primary passions during his tenure with ACD/Labs was the continued adoption of web-based technologies and developing automated structure verification and elucidation platforms. While at ACD/Labs he suggested the possibility of developing a public resource for chemists attempting to integrate internet available chemical data. He finally pursued this vision with some close friends as a hobby project in the evenings and the result was the ChemSpider database ( Even while running out of a basement on hand built servers the website developed a large community following that eventually culminated in the acquisition of the website by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Tony joined the organization, together with some of the other ChemSpider team, and became their Vice President of Strategic Development. At RSC he continued to develop cheminformatics tools, specifically ChemSpider, and was the technical lead for the chemistry aspects of the Open PHACTS project (, a project focused on the delivery of open data, open source and open systems to support the pharmaceutical sciences. He was also the technical lead for the UK National Chemical Database Service ( and the RSC lead for the PharmaSea project ( attempting to identify novel natural products from the ocean. He left RSC in 2015 to become a Computational Chemist in the National Center of Computational Toxicology at the Environmental Protection Agency where he is bringing his skills to bear working with a team on the delivery of a new software architecture for the management and delivery of data, algorithms and visualization tools. The “Chemistry Dashboard” was released on April 1st, no fooling, at, and provides access to over 700,000 chemicals, experimental and predicted properties and a developing link network to support the environmental sciences. Tony remains passionate about computer-assisted structure elucidation and verification approaches and continues to publish in this area. He is also passionate about teaching scientists to benefit from the developing array of social networking tools for scientists and is known as the ChemConnector on the networks. Over the years he has had adjunct roles at a number of institutions and presently enjoys working with scientists at both UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University. He is widely published with over 200 papers and book chapters and was the recipient of the Jim Gray Award for eScience in 2012. In 2016 he was awarded the North Carolina ACS Distinguished Speaker Award.

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