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Digitalization and Chemical Entity Recognition of Chemisches Zentralblatt: Unrivaled Historical Information Meets Modern Technology. M. Brändle (ETH Zürich), V. Eigner-Pitto (InfoChem GmbH). Historical Importance of Chemisches Zentralblatt. 1830 Chemisches Zentralblatt 1969.

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Digitalization and Chemical Entity Recognition of Chemisches Zentralblatt:

Unrivaled Historical Information

Meets Modern Technology

M. Brändle (ETH Zürich), V. Eigner-Pitto (InfoChem GmbH)

Historical Importance of Chemisches Zentralblatt Zentralblatt:

1830 Chemisches Zentralblatt 1969

First and oldest abstracts journal in chemistry

Covers chemical literature from 1830 to 1969

Describes the „birth“ of chemistry as science (vs. alchemy)


1907 Chemical Abstracts …

Biggest and single abstracts source in chemistry

Currently >31 million papers and patents

Content 1840-1906 added retrospectively


1817 Gmelin Handbook …


1881 Beilstein Handbook …

Chemisches Zentralblatt: Content Zentralblatt:

  • Covers 140 years of chemistry

  • About 3.6 million abstracts

    • journal articles

    • patents

  • 900‘000 pages (115‘000 for time period 1830-1906)

    • 700‘000 pages with abstracts

    • 200‘000 pages of indexes („Register“)

      • Author 1830

      • Subject

        • alphabetic 1830

        • systematic 1863

      • Patent 1897

      • Formula 1925

      • General indexes 1883

History of Chemisches Zentralblatt: Rise Zentralblatt:

„Pharmaceutisches Central-Blatt“, 403 abstracts/544 pages/10 journals, weekly after 8 months.



Title changes to „Chemisch-Pharmaceutisches Central-Blatt“


„Chemisches Central-Blatt“


Introduction of a systematic table of contents  Classification of chemistry


First patent abstracts in „kleinen Mittheilungen“


1st edition of General Index


In-text images


273 journals excerpted

History of Chemisches Zentralblatt: Prosperity Zentralblatt:


Holding passes to Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft for DM 15‘000.Introduction of patent index.


Editorial office moves from Leipzig to Berlin.



Takes over abstracts from Angew. Chem.

Split into scientific (I/III) and technical part (II/IV).


Begins to cover foreign patents.


CZ is reunified into one journal of abstracts.


Introduction of formula index.


Centennial: Richard Willstätter accentuates „timeliness, exactness, completeness“ as attributes and requirements for quality of CZ.

History of Chemisches Zentralblatt: Decline Zentralblatt:





WW II: Difficulties in collecting information.

1944 bombing of editorial office.

Editorial Office

East Berlin

Double production of CZ in Eastand West Germany.





Reunification of CZ under Eastand West German organisations.


Trying to fill gap by supplement volumes.


Berlin Wall does not hinder production.


Introduction of SRD (Schnellreferatedienst, quick abstract service) for organic chemistry.

Editorial Office

West Berlin

GDR office declares unable to afford production of SRD and of journal.

CZ ceases publication.



SRD continued as „Chemischer Informationsdienst“ (ChemInform).

Chemisches Zentralblatt vs. CA: Quantity Zentralblatt:







CA format change

Chemisches Zentralblatt vs. CA: Quality Zentralblatt:

  • Many textbooks on chemical literature claim better quality of Chemisches Zentralblatt than CA for pre-WW II

    • H. Skolnik, The literature matrix of chemistry, 1982: „outstanding A/I service“

    • R.E. Maizell, How to find chemical information, 3rd ed. 1998, citing E.J. Crane, „[..] has value because of [..] good abstracts“

    • M. Mücke, Die chemische Literatur, 1982, „Zwar war CA zahlenmässig [..] dem Chemischen Zentralblatt überlegen, doch war dies gerade umgekehrt, was die Qualität der Referate betraf.“

    • R.T. Bottle, J.F. Rowland, Information Sources in Chemistry, 4th ed. 1993, „Before WW II, many chemists regarded CZ as superior in coverage to CA; its abstracts were longer and more informative [...]“

  • A.S.K. Atsu, Comparative coverage of chemical abstracting services in the period 1906-1940, M. Sc. Thesis, City University, London (1976)

Chemisches Zentralblatt vs. CA: Quality Zentralblatt:

Example: Hans Fischer, Georg Stangler, Synthese des Mesoporphyrings, Mesohämins und über die Konstitution des Hämins, Justus Liebigs Ann. Chem. 459(1927), 53-98.

Chemisches Zentralblatt: Digitalization Zentralblatt:

  • Relevant for documentation of prior art

  • Continuous and growing demand of the information

  • FIZ Chemie Berlin has scanned the whole work and offers a full text searchable database for the web and the dataset for integration in Intranets

  • ETH Zurich has bought the digitalized raw material (pdfs with OCRed text in the background) from FIZ and is creating a database offering full text search

    • 900‘000 pdf pages,1.3 TB

    • Raw text content incl. search index about 10 GB

  • CAS has performed automatic translation (German  English) of the 1897-1907 volumes and included in CAplus

Reasons for buying digitalized Chem. Zentralblatt Zentralblatt:

Reasons for buying digitalized Chem. Zentralblatt Zentralblatt:

  • Space

    • Loss of compact shelving space in basement (432 m  194 m, -55%)

    • Disposal of printed Beilstein, CA, Chem. Zentralblatt

  • Access

    • e-books, e-journals, end-user databases at workbench of chemist

    • Chemists trained to electronic sources, print and µ-film cumbersome

  • Restoration costs due to deterioration of acid-containing paper

    • 17K€/t for deacidification : Chem. Zentralblatt 1.6 t  27K€

    • Digitalization and operation costs much higher (10x), but can be divided

  • Ease of use : Search / Browse / Print

Quality of Obtained Raw Data Zentralblatt:

  • Errors upon conversion

  • Visual inspection of pages: Cover Flow / Quick Look technology

Quality of Raw Data Observed: Page Errors Zentralblatt:

  • File errors (conversion)

    • Unreadable directories (missing content)

    • Defect pdf files (missing content)

  • Errors during scanning (visual inpection)

    • Duplicate pages (shifting page index)

    • Missing pages (shifting page index, missing content)

    • Issues scanned in wrong order (minor)

    • Two pages on one (shifting page index)

    • Wrong volume (missing content)

Quality of Raw Data Observed: OCR Zentralblatt:

  • ETH works with OCR from FIZ Chemie

    • page  word index, 346 million „words“

    • 8.8% with only 1 character

      • slightly expanded fonts, e.g. for author names, sum formulas

      • Abbreviations (journal names, Zentralblatt = C), numbers

      • element names in structure formulas

Planned Tasks ETH Zürich Zentralblatt:

  • Adding navigation structure, provide DB search and browse for ETH members (Q4/09)

  • Mining and Markup (Q1/10)

    • Bibliographic references

    • Authors

    • General Subject Headings

  • Reference linking to journal articles and patents (Q1/10)

Chemisches Zentralblatt: Conclusion Zentralblatt:

  • Covers chemical literature from 1830 to 1969

  • Very good abstract quality

    • Better quality (length, details) than CA for pre-WW II period 1907-1940

  • Contains also important patent information

  • Invaluable information in indexes (e.g. synonyms of ancient chemical names)

  • Only comprehensive abstract journal on the market up to 1907

    • More comprehensive than CA for 19th century literature

    • Complements Beilstein and Gmelin handbooks for 19th century literature

Importance of Chemisches Zentralblatt: Example Zentralblatt:

Org. Lett., 2006, 8 (19), pp 4279–4281

The authors have retracted this paper on November 15, 2007 (Org. Lett. 2007, 24, 5139)

Chemisches Zentralblatt., 1904, 2, 1145

InfoChem Motivation Zentralblatt:

  • Text search in Chemisches Zentralblatt:

    • Abstracts in German language

    • High number of old German chemical names

  • Chemists think in structures!!!

  • Language independent structure search would help ALL scientists to access this historical source and to use the relevant information of this art

  • Required technology for structure search projects

  • Optimized German-English dictionaries

  • 30 million SPRESI names

Overview Zentralblatt: of Approach and Applied Technology


SPRESI Dictionaries

Comparison (quantitative)


Manual abstraction of sample set for evaluation


.tiff Documents



Combined search on federated search system


Link to original literature

Pdf documents

Text under image

Challenges OCR (1) Zentralblatt:






Challenges OCR (2) Zentralblatt:

  • Bad quality of original source: dirty (blotted, stained) pages

  • print from back page

Challenges OCR (3) Zentralblatt:

  • Tables: extremely small fonts,

  • not recognizable begin / end of columns

Challenges OCR (4) Zentralblatt:

  • Ambiguous old fonts (h=b; c=e; ligations)

  • Spaced text

Specific rules, large German dictionaries and extensive training are applied to correct systematic mistakes of standard OCR process

Challenges Annotation (1) Zentralblatt:

  • Names lack position, valence or stoichiometric information

    • Pimarsäure  is it the R or L form?

    • Platinchlorid  in which oxidation state II, III, IV?

  • Chemical names that indicate a chemical class

    • Nitrolsäure (nitrolic acid) 

    • Lactonsäure (lactonic acid)  any of several acids with a lactone ring bearing the carboxylic group

  • Mixed compounds

    • Eunole  Naphthole + Eucalyptusöl

    • Pikrotoxin  Pikrotoxinin + Pikrotin

NO solution: correct structure information is not available in the original source

Challenges Annotation (2) Zentralblatt:

  • Obsolete German language

    • Schwefelsaures Natrium, Chlorür, Bromür

  • Historical names

    • Pelopeum  Columbium  Niobium

  • Different spelling for the same name:

    • Dibrom…  Bibrom…

    • Ätzkali  Aetzkali

Solutions in Annotation Process Zentralblatt:

  • Correction of German-specific grammar

  • Translation in English of not available chemical names

  • Research in old sources:

    • Beilstein

    • Brockhaus Encyclopedia

    • German-English dictionaries of chemistry

    • Meyers Encyclopedia

    • Pierer Encyclopedia

    • References to very old books, journals, articles

      • “Naturwissenschaftliche Exzerpte und Notizen Mitte 1877 bis Anfang 1883”

      • by Karl Marx

Results Annotation Chemisches Zentralblatt Zentralblatt:

  • 120,000 pages covering time period 1830-1907

  • 2.4 million chemical names with associated structure

    • 98,000 unique names

    • 47,000 unique structures

Quantitative comparison with manually abstracted sample set

  • Recall 51%

  • Precision 87%

Summary Zentralblatt:

  • Described history, content and importance nowadays of Chemisches Zentralblatt

  • Illustrated how the challenges of OCR and annotation process have been solved

  • Time period 1830-1907 contains 98,000 unique names and 47,000 unique structures

    • Quantitative comparison proves over 50% recall and nearly 90% precision

    • Generated structure searchable Chemisches Zentralblatt database is integrated in ICFEDSEARCH

Outlook Zentralblatt:

Acknowledgements Zentralblatt:

  • Prof. Dr. Deplanque, Mr. Heineke and FIZ Chemie Team Berlin

  • Ms. Langanke

  • InfoChem Team

  • Chemistry Biology Pharmacy Information Center (ETH Zürich)

Thank you!

ETH Zürich:, [email protected]

InfoChem GmbH:,, [email protected]