Asked to list the essential tools of a scientist’s trade, most would probably think first of hardware: the microscope, the tele­scope, the mass spectrometer, the genome sequencer, the test-tube. But just as important to today’s data-wranglers are software — Excel, ChemDraw, MATLAB — and the programming languages used to create it, such as Python, R and SQL. Such tools are integral to modern research practice, whether for analysing or visualizing data, sharing files, collaborating, writing up papers, publishing, searching the literature or simply organizing one’s work. And although software engineers have often overlooked science in favour of more lucrative markets — think Flappy Bird, Instagram and iTunes — software, websites and apps designed specifically for researchers are blossoming.
Partly in response to this flourishing sector, Nature this week introduces a new section to help readers keep up to date. The Toolbox pages will collect the journal’s writing on software tools and websites that researchers use to work more efficiently, or in new ways. Find them online at, and monthly in print.