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The project goal is to implement a medium-to-high performance chemical information server and use it to deploy large chemical databases on the Internet.


The experiment

Given today's technological, academic, commercial and political realities, can we create a viable public system which delivers "full-strength" access to chemical information?


Mjollnir's background

Three sociologically-evolved methods of scientific information exchange exist{1}: the reviewed journal, the centralized library, and the forum. Of these, only the forum is suitable for use over a global network in a fully distributed manner.

In an idealistic forum, participants must identify themselves, may freely (or at least equally) have access to all relevant information, and may make contributions without prior review or censorship (including comments about contributions made by other participants).

Most scientific forums take the form of conferences where all participants are physically present (such as this meeting). However, the forum per se has no requirement for proximity or immediacy, e.g., usenet is a good example of a forum.

The Mjollnir project represents an attempt to build a practical forum for chemical information exchange.

Earlier systems: Mjollnir-I

The Thor database system {2} was designed with the forum concept in mind, although it is not (yet) used this way. Universal structure-based indexing, constant time retrieval and strict ID-data distinction make Thor particularly suitable for use in a chemical information forum.

An early version of Mjollnir (now called Mjollnir-I) implements universal access to large amounts of chemical data. This low-performance data retrieval system operates via e-mail has been operational for several years.3 It is primarily used by academics with poor access to information.

Although Mjollnir-I makes a lot of data available (the complete medchem, tsca, spresipreps, and wdi databases), its very low performance limits its use to delivering data to resource-poor academics and to marketing databases to better-funded researchers (database demos). The same low performance makes it immune to "database-dumping".

Key design features

User interfaces

Natural language interface

Language interface example

POV: Academic chemists and students

Academic chemists (and libraries) are being pinched by severe budget cuts in many colleges and universities. Research monies which used to take up the slack are not so plentiful anymore. Mjollnir should provide such chemists with free access to data.

POV: Industrial chemists

Mjollnir will provide a mechanism for industrial chemists with Internet access to explore many sources of chemical information quickly and easily. For all the advances in modern chemical informatics, this is something which hasn't reached most bench chemists. It is unlikely that industrial chemists will be able to use the public Mjollnir server for their day-to-day work since it is not possible to ask proprietary questions. If the service is something they really need, the assumption is that they have the resources to obtain it (e.g., obtain the database for in-house use).

POV: Database vendors

Publishing an up-to-date chemical information database is intrinsically expensive and any workable system must ensure that database vendors must get a good return for their efforts. The keys to selling data are quality (data that people actually need) and volume (multiplies the effect of the effort).

The Internet provides a very effective mechanism to reach potential customers and to allow them to become familiar with the product. In this context, "free academic use" is an advantage: most chemical databases are way too expensive for academics anyway (no real loss) and having students be trained to use a database as one of their tools is a great advantage in the long term. The assumption that those that can buy it are the same people as thosewith proprietary questions is arguable, but eminently testable.

One nice assurance for the vendors is that the data is maintained in a central place with provisions against dumping -- if it seems that the system is being abused, they can "pull the plug".

POV: IS/IT specialists

This system provides convenient "try before you buy" functionality for both software and databases. Current data aquisition decisions are often made for historical reasons or based on "blurbs". Mjollnir should allow better-informed decision-making low cost in time and money. Online services Once it proves itself, the Mjollnir server will be made available as normal Daylight product. Our intention is that Mjollnir should provide a cost-effective delivery system for existing- and would-be online services, whether public (actually free), commercial (charge by subscription or usage), or private (in-house, secure). There don't appear to be existing products of this type available, especially for small services.

POV: Daylight

Mjollnir represents both a commercial product and a step in Daylight's mission to bring chemical informatics to all chemists.

Since Daylight sells the databases, the underlying database servers and Mjollnir itself, it is expected to serve as a marketing tool. We hope that companies will say, ""Gee, if you can deliver eight million structures across the Internet you can surely handle our few hundred thousand structures on our local network".

The only way to build a reliable and high-performance system is to actually maintain one in active use: Mjollnir will give us the opprotunity to do so in a big way. It also serves as part of our continuing efforts to support chemical education which is now in crisis.



  1. Dr. Howard Winant, discussions beginning 1979 in San Francisco, now at Sociology Department, Temple University, Philiadelphia, PA.

  2. MedChem Software Manual, Release 3.51, Medicinal Chemistry Project, Pomona College, Claremont, CA; 1987

  3. mjollnir@daylight.com, operating since 1993 from the Research Office of Daylight Chemical Information Systems, Inc, Santa Fe, NM

As always, we are looking for input and feedback from our users. If you have ideas about the role, design, or implementation of Mjollnir, let us know. Soon!
Daylight Chemical Information Systems, Inc.