Electronic Lab Notebooks and blogs

Working in a Wireless world

Scientists at Infinity Pharmaceuticals take their e-notebooks with them while they work, helping to free up space and allowing the researchers to record information while conducting experiments.

This article in the June issue of BioIT World talks about Infinity Pharma setting up a fully wireless network in their labs and offices in Boston. Scientists now carry their laptops around everywhere they go, entering data and experimental results into electronic notebook software. This creates the data backbone for knowledge sharing that simply does not exist with the paper notebook world. Infinity's CIO claims to have thousands of pages of structured data in the ELN after 1 1/2 years. I wonder how they are taking advantage of that data?

"We promote openness and collaboration," says Andrew Palmer, Infinity's CIO. "All scientists share information by using electronic lab notebooks." (Use of electronic lab notebooks is a condition of employment set down by Michael Foley, Infinity's vice president of chemical technologies.)

Electronic Lab Notebooks are essentially content management systems with controls placed on modifying existing entries. Critical functionality includes date stamping entries; ability to sign and witness each entry; and including data (spreadsheets, graphs, pictures) from scientific equipment and applications. In the electronic world, people always want the capacity to share notebooks - at least in read-only mode - so that scientists can better see what their colleagues are doing. In the background, there has to be bombproof records management and archiving, so that notebook records are accessible years into the future for intellectual property actions. Most technical companies keep paper notebooks for decades, and there are well-established processes to preserve the data on them. We still have access to Edison's and DaVinci's notes. This is a critical aspect to the long-term success of ELNs.

While blog software may not be the answer, there are certainly parallels. And the idea of aggregating the notebooks of several colleagues could add a new wrinkle to the ELN world. Instead of going out and looking at individual notebooks kept by your colleagues, use the aggregator to stay abreast of their experimental progress. More interestingly, one could imagine an aggregator daemon that sits in the background and browses all notebooks for keywords that are of particular interest.

For more about ELNs, check out the Collaborative Electronic Notebooks Association: CENSA. Several companies are selling ELN products: Amphora, Cambridge Software, Gensys and others.

3 Comment(s)

Personally, I am torn over the subject. I haven't used ELNs at the bench, and I am curious about the possible advantages outlined above. That being said, I just can't see my lab making the switch from paper notebooks. I can record information so much more efficiently with pen and pad than I have ever been able to do on screen. Notebooks are cheap and plentiful. Even high-quality laboratory notebooks like those from BookFactory.com can be bought in droves without coming close to the cost of a professional ELN system.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that cost, ease of use, and court admissibility are still barriers (at least in my eyes).

Thanks, Stephen. All good points - paper feels much easier. But then the shift to working individually (in paper notebook) to jointly across labs, even sites has a lot of draw. On the other hand, I think it would make more sense to use the electronic media to discuss results and struggles than the details of individual experiments.

Steve Parker Author Profile Page said:

I've used eNovator Electronic Lab Notebook & found it very good for research purpose i guess all researchers should give it a try.

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