Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

It still baffles me that in this day and age, a majority of laboratory researchers still use paper lab notebooks.

Back in 2008 (wow, 4 years ago), I tried using OpenWetWare in our MICB323 class. It was an experiment in an experimental laboratory class that Mrs. Hinze, our lab instructor, was quite open to us trying. I found the experience quite awesome, as it was much faster and less tedious for me to record information compared to when I was doing paper notebooks in the corresponding previous class (MICB322). Because of the nature of typing, I was able to write and re-write my experimental rationale until it either (1) was exactly what I was thinking, or (2) was exactly what was going on, with no ambiguities.

Recently, I found on a Science Careers article links to two ELNs – irisnote and eCAT. Both looked like compelling products, and they both have free versions available for individual researchers (graduate students, post-docs, etc.).

I’ve tried irisnote before (albeit amounting to only a bunch of clicks here and there), and while I found it to be quite interesting, I wasn’t convinced by how compelling it could be as a full-fledged product. This was primarily because I couldn’t find an easy way to link records – between plasmids, glycerol stocks, oligos, and experimental records.

eCAT looks like a more compelling offering, because it allows for such record linking. I think this is the thing that provides value to a user – the ability to easily flip through sample relationships to find exactly what I need, when I need it (e.g. experimental results related to a plasmid, or construction steps for that plasmid).

Of course, none of these systems becomes truly valuable to a researcher until there is an integrated suite that links records to physical samples and allows for tracking of those samples, while also allowing one to read through others’ notebooks. Having this “social” layer – for example, allowing one to comment on each others’ notebooks to discuss certain aspects of the experiments being done – could help stimulate discussion and improve the quality of work being done. It could also help research leaders/mentors catch errors being made by junior researchers earlier on in the experimental process that may jeopardize the quality of results being generated, which would be invaluable for any upcoming research scientist. For example, post-doc mentors of incoming graduate students could do weekly or daily “look-throughs” of lab notebooks to catch errors of any sort – or simply write an encouraging “comment” for that student instead!

Alrighty, enough of a digression from prepping lab meeting – now onto my 5th revision of my slides, and 3rd rehearsal!

2 thoughts on “Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

    1. On OpenWetWare, that is the case.

      With other commercially-available systems, digital signing and locking of records with timestamps is possible. Addenums can be made (like comments), without necessitating the crossing-out of errant items.

      This is the future, but it really should be the present. The software/technology is already there.

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