Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
This Is Auburn Auburn University Libraries LibGuides

Chemistry: SciFinder -- References

Log on to SciFinder

SciFinder Login 

Login with your AU username/password, then login with your SciFinder username/password.

Don't have a SciFinder account yet?

Create a SciFinder Login -- Start from this link. Complete account registration via your AU email..

The basics -- How SciFinder searches

Steps in a SciFinder Research Topic search

  1. Enter keywords -- Your knowledge of chemistry and SciFinder impacts this!
    • SciFinder search algorithm identifies "concepts"
    • SciFinder constructs a pick list of results based on "concepts" and syntax
  2. Select one, or more, results from the pick list.
  3. Use the Analyze, Refine, and Categorize tabs to learn more and to refine results


Concepts => The SciFinder search algorithm identifies "concepts". What is a concept? That depends on your search. Really, it depends on your search! It can be a single word or a phrase. Examples below will clarify.

One concept
     gold nanoparticle
     density functional theory
     gold nanoparticle density functional theory => This is one concept
     cyclic voltammetry
     gold nanoparticle cyclic voltammetry
     electron transfer gold
Two concepts
     gold nanoparticles electron transfer
     gold electron transfer nanoparticle => Very odd concepts identified!!!
Singular and plural are usually lumped together – but not always!
     Lumped together:
          enzyme (enzymes)
          polymer (polymers)
          sulfide (sulfides)
     Not lumped together:
          thiol (thiols)
Automatic truncation is often applied.
  • oxidation finds oxidant, oxidative, oxidized, and oxidizer by truncating to oxid*
  • product finds production, produce, and produced by truncating to prod*
  • motor finds motion, mother, and motif by truncating to mot*
Secret dictionary connects some synonyms into the same concept
     dairy finds milk
     cancer finds neoplasm
     Antabuse finds 97-77-8 and N,N,N',N'-tetraethyl-thioperoxydicarbonic diamide
  • The most valuable part of the "secret dictionary" are substance synonyms.
  • The most important substance synonym is the CAS Registry Number.
Ignored words => By looking at the results of a search, you can see how SciFinder treats a word.
     Some words are ignored by SciFinder. These include:
          articles (a, an, the)
          words that usually have little meaning (effect, results, etc.)
Abbreviations => Chemical Abstracts (aka SciFinder) has a long history of using abbreviations starting back in the print era when space on the printed page was valuable. However, Chemical Abstracts continues to use abbreviations. Knowing about CAS Abbreviations is useful for keyword searches and to correctly read an abstract in a CAS record. A better version of the same list can be found in chapter 10 of the ACS Style Guide (see pages 169-202). Sometimes the CAS abbreviation is a better search term than the word or phrase it represents. For example, LCAO is a better search term than is "linear combination of atomic orbitals". In contrast, HOMO and "highest occupied molecular orbital" are treated identically by SciFinder. These are a two examples of how tricky it can be to find the "best terms" with which to search SciFinder.

Three simple rules

Three simple rules

  • Best terms
  • Prepositions
  • Parenthetical "OR"

The first rule addresses concepts

The 2nd and 3rd rules deal with syntax.between concepts

Best terms -- Rule #1

Best terms => The first rule is deceptively simple. There are two types of "best terms" -- (1) Terms that SciFinder uses for a concept (aka controlled vocabulary) and (2) Terms that researchers use (aka "jargon"). The controlled vocabulary of SciFinder is found in the Indexing terms in a SciFinder record. The terms used by researchers shows up in the article title, the abstract, and the uncontrolled portion of Index terms in SciFinder. Yes, index terms in SciFinder use both controlled vocabulary and uncontrolled vocabulary!

Experiment with different words to find what works best. It may take a couple of searches (or even weeks or months) to find the best terms for your search needs. For example, CAS Registry Numbers are usually better search terms than common names.

Identifying the "best terms" also depends on your chemical knowledge -- as your understanding of a topic improves, often so do your searches.

Prepositions -- Rule #2

Prepositions between concepts is a powerful tool
Prepositions ...
Increase the relevance of search results
Cost you nothing ... and usually finds better search results!
A preposition is (usually) better than the "AND" operator
Compare the pick lists for these three SciFinder searches:
hydrogen storage metal hydrides
hydrogen storage with metal hydrides
hydrogen storage and metal hydrides
Now look at the pick lists for these two SciFinder searches.
hydrogen storage with metal hydrides with low pressure
hydrogen storage with metal hydrides with low pressure (atmospheric pressure)
=> Can the efficiency of the last search be duplicated using "AND"s? No!!!
Prepositions invoke the "closely associated" operator (a powerful tool in SciFinder).
Search SciFinder for ... hydrogen storage with metal hydrides
This will present you with a pick list with five choices. One of these choices are the 8,710 references that contain the two concepts "hydrogen storage" and "metal hydrides" closely associated with one another (as of 5-1-2020).
"Closely associated"
"Closely associated with one another" is a proximity operator. This means that the concepts are found together in one of five ways in a SciFinder record. The concepts are found in one of these five parts of a SciFinder record::
Title of the article
Same sentence in the abstract
Same Index term (including its free-text modifier)
Same CAS Registry number index term (including its free-text modifier)
List of Supplementary Terms
There is no guarantee that references with both concepts "closely associated" will be the best references, but it is likely that they are.
"Present anywhere"
Do not ignore the results in which both concepts are "present anywhere". The reference(s) that you need may be in the "present anywhere" results but not in the "closely associated" results. This is especially true for references that are so new that they have not been indexed by SciFinder (they only have a title and an abstract ... no index terms, CAS Registry Numbers, or supplementary terms).
"As entered"
"As entered" is a strange beast. It usually means that means that the concepts are separated by a space, punctuation, or a word with no meaning such as "a" or "the". Use this pick list option with caution. This pick list option can be used to force SciFinder to combine concepts together but it also can also limit a search when you don't want to.

Parenthetical OR -- Rule #3

SciFinder does not interpret parentheses in the usual way (i.e, as a priority operator).
Instead, SciFinder sees parentheses as an implied Boolean OR operator.
         A (B)  =  A   OR   B    where A & B are "concepts"
In SciFinder, A (B) is a better way to run an "OR" search than the traditional way =>  A   OR   B.
Examples:                   mercaptan (thiol) = mercaptan OR thiol
       mercaptan (thiol, sulfhydryl) = mercaptan OR thiol OR sulfhydryl

The "parenthetical OR" can be distributed over a preposition.

"mercaptan (thiol) with electron transfer" would be interpreted by SciFinder as meaning ...

"mercaptan with electron transfer OR thiol with electron transfer".

Boolean Operators -- Do not rely on Boolean operators in SciFinder!
Some Boolean operators work partially, but give quizzical results when used in tandem (which is how they usually used).
Which Boolean operators work? It is a short list.
     phenol NOT resin => Finds records in SciFinder  the word phenol shows up, but not when the work resin also shows up
What Boolean operators only work in the most trivial case?
     The exception is the trivial case:  A   AND   B
                                               palladium AND catalyst
     Exception is the trivial case:  A   OR   B
                                     mercaptans OR thiols
     It is much better to instead use the "Parenthetical OR" or to Combine searches..
     As discussed above, in SciFinder they do not work as Boolean parentheses (i.e. as,priority operators)..
     In SciFinder, parentheses should only be used for the "Parenthetical OR".

Analyze, Refine, and/or Categorize -- Research Topic Searches


  • Best if you want to know more about your search results
  • Most useful options => Index terms, Authors, Company/Organizations, Journal Title, CA Section, Year
  • SciFinder is divided into 80 CA Sections. Each CA Section covers only one broad area. Each abstract appears in only one CA Section. This can be a powerful way to limit search results especially when a research topic is of interest to different types of chemists (e.g., an analytical chemist and an organic chemist.). Use the Analyze tool to limit by CA Section.
  • Analyze by Year and sort the results "alphabetically" to see how much research has been done on a topic as a function of time. Some topics are on the rise (gold nanoparticles) while other topics have have waxed and waned over the years (e.g., Clemmensen reduction)


  • Best if you know how you want to limit your search
  • Most useful => Publication Type for reviews
  • The keyword limit becomes an "AND" search. It is usually better to revise your search instead and use a preposition with the new concept.


  • Best if you want to see how Index terms and substances fit into categories
  • This is a highly recommended "Discovery Tool". Use it to learn more about the search results.
  • Fairly fast
  • Can only be run on < 5,000 references
  • Generates a pick list of index terms & substances
  • Especially useful to find better keywords to use in SciFinder

Combine searches

Combining searches can be a good way to narrow a search.

  1. Save the results from a search
  2. Run another search
  3. From the Tools pull-down menu (top of page), select "Combine Answer Sets"
  4. Choose the previously saved search
  5. Choose either Combine (OR), Intersect (AND), or one of the two Exclude (NOT) options