Science 2.0: Blog system that supports scientific articles

Published: Feb. 20, 2013

When scientists want to circulate their work as preprints independently of the big publishers, they can upload their work to PDF has become the format of choice to distribute such material online. But PDF is not in interactive format like HTML: It is in essence a compressed prepress format, intended to reproduce the layout exactly as it would be printed on paper. It does not adapt well to different resolutions, devices and screen sizes.

For a long time it has been difficult to include special formatting like mathematical or chemical formulae, footnotes, figures with numbers, and reference lists in HTML documents. That's one reason why PDF has become so popular for scientific articles: Using LaTeX typesetting, it is rather easy to produce high-quality documents with all these features. On Wikipedia, such things are possible, but that's a bit difficult to set up and maintain, and it is rather incompatible with the way things are done in LaTeX. I consider setting up MediaWiki for a personal homepage overkill and a suboptimal solution.

Alexander and Gundula Clausen (gc-web) have designed and implemented my new personal homepage with a blog based on Zinnia that supports all the necessary formatting for scientific articles. The formatting works in close analogy to LaTeX. You can have a look at two of my articles already: "Non-volatile gated variable resistor based on doped $\ce{La2CuO_{4+$\delta$}}$ and $\ce{SrTiO3}$ heterostructures" and "Variable resistor made by repeated steps of epitaxial deposition and lithographic structuring of oxide layers by using wet chemical etchants".

The bibliography is generated from an uploaded or embedded BibTeX file (parsed with Pybtex) using a special citation tag within the text, just like LaTeX does it. Chemical and mathematical formulae are rendered with MathJax. Footnotes and numbering of figures etc. are done with custom tags as well, including internal links using the "id" attribute. I prepare most of my figures as SVG vector graphics before exporting them as PDF. These days, almost all modern browsers support SVG, but older ones have difficulties. This blog system provides an automatic PNG fallback for SVG figures using Modernizr.

In effect, it is quite easy to transform a LaTeX document into a blog entry, preserving all the important formatting that I use. The blog does of course come with all the bells and whistles that regular blogs have as well, as you can see. I hope that it will help to disseminate scientific work to a wider public and encourage comments from readers. This is, in my opinion, the future of scientific communication. Many thanks to Gundula and Alex who made this possible!

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