And finally….

I suspect that the name G. Malcolm Dyson in the History of the IIS item above will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not been in chemical information retrieval for quite a number of decades. Dyson developed a linear notation for organic chemical compounds in 1946, initially with a view to supporting the use of punched cards to retrieve information.  In 1959 Dyson was Research Director at Chemical Abstracts Service and had started working with H.P Luhn (IBM) on using a computer to handle the searching process, even if the 1401 computer only had 8k of core memory. The cheminformatics research at the Information School, University of Sheffield, can trace its origins back to Emeritus Professor Michael Lynch, who worked at CAS (initially with Dyson) from 1961 to 1965.

When we were writing the IIS history we realized how little we knew about Dyson, other than a brief German Wikipedia entry, and in particular why Farradane had asked Dyson to be the first President of the Institute. With the history sorted I have been turning my attention to researching a biographical profile of Dyson and discovered that his contribution to information retrieval went way beyond what some commentators have regarded as a failed notation system.

Dyson was active in this research area from 1947 (punched cards) to 1967 (the development of connection tables from structural formulae), a period of immense change in information retrieval which has been poorly documented and recognized. As I write the profile is already 15,000 words and 120 citations long and I’m enjoying the process of writing an academically-sound profile making use of my skills (such as they are) of both information science and chemistry. The profile will be ready for publication in early December, though at present I don’t know where!

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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