Presentation at Analytica-Munich by Emma Schymanski “Finding small molecules in big data”

11 Apr


My friend and often collaborator gave a talk at Analytica Munich this week (wish I was there) and it was in regards to “Finding small molecules in big data”. I am fortunate to collaborate with Emma on many of the aspects of using cheminformatics approaches to interrogate, interpret and integrate data associated with mass spectrometry analyses and structure identification. It’s been an interesting year working on the challenges together.


Metabolomics and exposomics are amongst the youngest and most dynamic of the omics disciplines. While the molecules involved are smaller than proteomics and the other, larger “omics”, the challenges are in many ways greater. Elements are less constrained, there are no given “puzzle pieces” and there is a resulting explosion in terms of potential chemical space. It is impossible to even enumerate all chemically possible small molecules. The challenges and complexity of identifying small molecules even using the most advanced analytical technologies available today is immense. Current “big data” methods for small molecules rely heavily on chemical databases, the largest of which presently available contain ~100 million chemicals. Despite this large number, high resolution mass spectrometry (HR-MS) measurements contain tens of thousands of features, of which only a few percent can be annotated as “known” and confirmed as metabolites or chemicals of interest using these chemical databases. How can we find relevant small molecules in the ever increasing data loads? How can we annotate more of the unknown features in HR-MS experiments? This talk will present European, US and worldwide initiatives to help find small molecules in big data – from chemical databases to spectral libraries, real-time monitoring to retrospective screening. It will touch on the challenges of standardized structure representations, data curation and deposition. Finally, it will show how interdisciplinary communication, data sharing and pushing the boundaries of current capabilities can facilitate research efforts in metabolomics, exposomics and beyond. This abstract does not necessarily represent U.S. EPA policy.


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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Posted by on April 11, 2018 in MS Structure Identification


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