CRC Press is pleased to share with you our author Q&A session with John Rumble, author of CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 100th Edition.
Q&A with John Rumble
Well the 100th Edition is a team effort, as the Handbook has been all along. First, I follow a long, distinguished chain of outstanding Editors, starting with William Veazey, who founded the Handbook in 1913. In more recent years, Robert Weast, David, Lide and Mickey Haynes, my immediate predecessors, have for the last 50 years expanded the Handbook into what it is today – the leading source of high-quality data in chemistry and physics. And it is important to mention here that the same high-quality data is available in our Online Edition.
It is a mixture of the diversity of our data content – close to 400 separate scientific topics – combined with our dedication to quality. Let me expand on both these points. Every day, scientists in the course of their research and other activities require a wide variety of data. While most of the data they require can be found with great effort in the original literature, in almost every case, they are not able to assess the quality of the reported measurements and equally unable to choose among conflicting results.
The Handbook has worked with over 100 experts who collect the data in their respective fields, evaluate their quality according to well-established criteria, and then create the data tables found in the Handbook using the data they judge to be most reliable and of highest quality. Not only are the data easily found in one convenient Print volume or in our easy-to-use Online database, but also users can be confident these data are the best available.
If I had to do it alone, it would be impossible. Fortunately, we have a group of outstanding authors, experts in their own fields, who do most of the compilation and quality assessment. Many of these authors work at data centers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or other well-known research organizations, and can draw on those data resources in their work. Others have often compiled and evaluated data on a specific topic for their own research interests. They are willing to share those data collections with the Handbook to help advance science.
Also, in most fields, the cycle of improved measurements is three to five years, and most of our data tables are reviewed and updated in that time frame. Consequently, every year the new edition has between 15-25% updated tables, which is why it is important for our users to keep their volume current. I should note that a few topics, such as our Table of Isotopes, are updated almost every year.
What are some of the new features you have brought or are planning to bring in the near future?
Well, the most obvious one is that the number of pages in the Print Edition has been reduced by about 40%, from 2500 to 1500 pages. This was done for two reasons. First, use of the Online Edition, which contains All our data, has grown so rapidly that I wanted to keep the size of the Print Edition manageable while adding new content. Our Senior Publisher, Fiona Macdonald thought this was the time to make such a change, and working with Dave Lide, the Associate Editor, we were able to do this quickly, yet continue to keep the essence of the contents in the Print Edition.
The second set of changes focus on improving the user experience with both the Print and Online Editions. While we are keeping the organization of the Handbook based on property types, we recognize our user community represents the broadest possible set of chemists, physicists, and other scientists, who consider themselves to more specialized – for example, environmental scientists, toxicologist, green chemists, nanotechnology, energy researchers, etc. Maybe we can call this “applied chemistry.”
To help these users, we are have expanded many of the introductions to the data tables to make them more accessible and easier-to-use for the non-specialist. This is a three-year process, and the 100th Edition is the first to have these updated introductions. We are also in the process of creating virtual views that help users find the diverse data that are spread across many tables, but relevant to the new scientific research areas as listed above. Now that the entire Handbook is in a database, we can more easily ensure that property data that occur in different tables are consistent.
We recognize that some of the heaviest users of the Handbook are students at all levels, undergraduates, graduate students, and those in high school. We are creating free user guides that help students and their teachers understand better how the Handbook is an invaluable source for chemistry and physics problem sets. Here I also want to mention that we are working to improve our applied physics coverage in the same way that we are improving our applied chemistry and will be producing similar guides for physics students.
Of course, we are constantly looking for new areas of chemistry and physics which are now mature enough to have enough data to permit compilation and quality assessment activities. I am always looking for new authors and editors to help with this process.
Probably the greatest challenge is the tsunami of data that is a result of advanced instrumentation, our improved ability to synthesize and purify chemical and materials, and, quite simply, the number of researchers who are publishing papers. Obviously, all new data cannot be included in the Printed Handbook, but our Online database system is capable of handling very large data volumes. More important is the question of how to assess the quality of individual data values within this massive flow. One key issue is that rarely does a single measurement yield a long-lasted property value, yet most measurements are not repeated, Assessing the quality of a single measure is a big challenge.
The second challenge is one of the emerging of so-called knowledge discovery tools – machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. These tools require fairly large volumes of high-quality data. Specialized data repositories such as those found in the area of crystallographic structure will be heavily used. At the same time, many complex systems and phenomena depend on multiple properties, so resources such as the handbook, which cover many properties will be sought by these tools. How to interface with them will be an interesting activity.
Finally, I need to mention that modern modelling techniques, whether based on first-principles quantum chemistry, or more heuristic models, have advanced to begin producing accurate property data. To date, however, there is virtually no accepted methodology for determining or expressing the uncertainties for modeling results. The Handbook contains few calculated property values not based on physical measurements. That will change in the coming decade, and the editors are working with the authors to determine how to assess the quality of model results, independent of comparison with experimental results.
Aside from my pride in working with such a great team to produce such an important resource for modern science, I guess my final thought is to ask users to let us know what we can do better – in terms of substance coverage, property coverage, and online data capability. We are excited to be starting our second century of work and look forward to being a valuable partner for research and education for many decades to come. I believe our theme for the 100th Edition of the CRC Handbook captures that well: A Heritage of High-Quality Data Looking to the Future!