Skip to Main Content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Physical & Thermodynamic Properties

Searching the Literature

Power Searching in SciFinder (Classic)

SciFinder indexes millions of documents (from the late 19th century up to last week) that may contain desired physical property information. It's the best index to start this kind of search, but it helps if you first understand the database's scope, structure, and limitations, and learn some handy tips to get better results.

  • SciFinder is not a purely relational database in the same way that Reaxys is. This means that, in the bibliographic record that describes the document, the substance identifier(s) (names, RNs) are not always directly related to data about that substance that may be present in the indexed document. Relevance can be imprecise, because all the concepts you're looking for may be present in the descriptive record, but they may not be in the desired context. Check out a sample record in the next tab.
  • If the data in question were the main topic of the article, values may even be shown in the abstract (check the source anyway). But if the document just noted the data in passing, the abstract and indexing may give no indication of its presence, and your search will not find it. Trying a search several different ways can reduce uncertainty.
  • Older literature can be harder to pin down. The quality and consistency of Chemical Abstracts' human indexing varied over the years, and was generally less thorough and granular before 1970. Unfortunately, that was when a lot of fundamental data were reported. When CAS converted the pre-1967 years of CA to digital format, the Registry Number for a substance was algorithmically assigned to the article record ONLY if the original Subject Index for that period included a reference to the article under the substance's CA Index Name. In many cases, CA abstracters only made this assignment when the substance was the main focus of the document, omitting other compounds that may have been mentioned. (The conversion project made no attempt to re-analyze or re-index the original literature.) Searching by common name instead of RN occasionally yields some articles where the name appears in the title or abstract but was not specifically indexed by RN.

Click on this thumbnail to view a sample record of a bibliographic reference from SciFinder. 

[Note:  The displays and functions described here are from the previous SciFinder interface, not SciFinder-n, which works quite differently.]

[Note:  The displays and functions described here are from the previous SciFinder interface, not SciFinder-n, which works quite differently.]

Start with Explore References: Research Topic query using a property name with the substance's Registry Number or common name.

topic search box with RN

  • Use the RN as a search term in place of a chemical name. Your search will be more precise by avoiding name-fragment hits that are not directly related to the compound you're seeking.
  • If the property index term contains a connector, such as OF in "Heat OF formation," omit the connector from your query.
  • SciFinder automatically includes certain synonyms and plurals in your search. For example, heat = enthalpy and both terms will be retrieved by searching one of them.
  • The OF operator (not case-sensitive) causes SciFinder to look for records that contain both the property name and the RN anywhere in the record. You'll see a histogram from which you can select the references with the concepts "closely associated with one another" to increase precision. Using the AND operator just looks for the concepts anywhere in the record but doesn't offer the proximity option.

When you use a chemical name instead of a RN, SciFinder tries to resolve the RN automatically if it can. This can be less precise than using a predetermined RN, but also helpful.

search box with common name

[Note:  The displays and functions described here are from the previous SciFinder interface, not SciFinder-n, which works quite differently.]

Starting from the Explore Substances Search

You can also start a search from the "Explore Substances" option. This search does essentially the same thing as above but with one extra step. First, you search for a substance by Registry Number, molecular formula, name, or structure.

When you've identified the correct substance record, click the Get References link.

The Registry database in SciFinder also contains some experimental and predicted properties for substances (red arrow). Since we're talking about literature searching here, we'll pass over that option.

You'll see a pop-up menu of substance "roles."  It's better NOT to select "Properties" here, for two reasons:  1)  using it will retrieve only post-1967 references, since the Properties role has not been retrospectively assigned to RNs before that date; and 2) the Properties role is only assigned to RNs where property data are a primary focus of the report, meaning you'll miss documents where useful data are present but are more incidental to the topic.

From the list of references, you can then use the Refine tab to limit the results set using a property name.

When you use this method, "closely associated" proximity is not considered. This makes this method a bit less precise than the References search option shown in the previous tab.


Touloukian's Bibliography

The physicist Y.S. Touloukian (1920-1981) recognized that traditional bibliographic indexes such as Chemical Abstracts did a relatively poor job of helping the researcher locate physical property data buried within the primary literature. He advocated improving the quality of scientific data collection and evaluation and, equally importantly, improving access to that data after the fact. In the 1960s and 70s he undertook a project to identify and adequately index documents that contained property data. The result was the Thermophysical Properties Research Literature Retrieval Guide. The 3rd edition of this work (1982) covered 1900-1980 and indexed over 75,000 source documents and over 44,000 substances. It complements the Thermophysical Properties of Matter series (1970-79) which contains actual evaluated data, and its online successor the TPMD database.

Properties Covered
The term "thermophysical properties" as used by this project signifies macroscopic (bulk) transport and thermodynamic properties, including:

  • Thermal conductivity
  • Specific heat at constant pressure (i.e. heat capacity)
  • Viscosity
  • Thermal radiative properties (emmisivity, absorptivity, reflectivity, transmissivity, optical constants)
  • Diffusion coefficient and permeability
  • Thermal diffusivity
  • Prandtl number
  • Expansion coefficient

Materials Covered
The bibliography's focus was on solid state materials, especially inorganic, metals, alloys, and composites both natural and manmade: Elements and their compounds; ferrous and nonferrous alloys; mixtures; composites; polymers; refractories; glasses; natural products; minerals; paints and coatings; slags, scales, aggregates, etc. Small organic molecules were not emphasized, since they are widely covered elsewhere. The 3rd edition organized material classes into self-contained volumes:

  • Elements
  • Inorganic compounds
  • Organic compounds and polymeric materials
  • Alloys, intermetallics, and cermets
  • Oxide mixtures and minerals
  • Mixtures and solutions
  • Coatings, systems, composites, foods, animal and vegetable products

Arrangement and Use
This tool is almost comically complex. The volumes contain explanations and examples in the prefatory sections and on the end pages. These are the basic search steps:

  1. Determine the "class" of desired substance.
  2. Look up the name of the substance in the appropriate class section (each of which is a separate volume in the 2nd ed. Supplements and 3rd edition).
  3. Refer to the Property column to see if the desired property code is listed for that substance. If it's not, you're finished.
  4. Note the substance number and look it up in the corresponding chapter for that specific property.
  5. Entries in the property sections are annotated according to physical state, subject, temperature range, and language. If an entry seems to match the conditions you're looking for, note the serial number.
  6. Look up the serial number in the Bibliography section to get the complete reference. There is also an author index. Some references are obscure, and include foreign language material, technical reports, conference papers, and other ephemera, so consult with a librarian if necessary.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.