Thinking about electronic lab books

credit: flickr S.S.K.
credit: flickr S.S.K.

My better half is a lecturer in bioinformatics and tries very hard to fit his bench research along all the other things he has to do as a lecturer. About a year ago, he started to use a campus learning objects wiki within our VLE, Blackboard, as an electronic version of his lab book. Much of the data that he produces comes in electronic format (DNA sequences, digital photos of gels, phosphor images for autoradiography), so it seemed daft to be printing these out to put in a paper lab book. He opened the lab wiki with the following reasoning:

He has used this system with undergraduate and postgraduate project students working in the lab, and we are writing up these experiences as a short communication for a journal. As part of the background research for this, I sent a brief email to our staff in the School of Biological Sciences to see if there was anyone else experimenting in this way. There was  a range of interest from a wide variety of staff. It appears this is a topic that people are thinking about more and more and a potential research area for the future.

A couple of comments were:

‘I’m looking at openwetware

one colleague said he kept everything electronically but didn’t use a specific system to link everything together. He raised the thorny issue of proof of ownership/ authorship for patent applications and storage (large images at 1 GB a time).

iDaily diary though the colleague that paid for this did point it that it did not transform his notebook practice (I guess if you aren’t good a keeping notes anyway, going electronic probably won’t help!)

on twitter, a colleague said they used DEVONthink (Mac only) which allows the insertion of images (include editable PDFd LaTex equations)

This is an interesting area and one which I’m sure we will come back to, not just as a project for the more effective supervision of students, but as a tool for assisting research scientists to bring their practices for recording data into line with the already innovative generation of that data.


3 thoughts on “Thinking about electronic lab books”

  1. Not directly related to lab notebooks but on a similar theme, I’m still looking for some sort of drag n’ drop storage/display/dashboard type solution, something like a cross between Netvibes and a wiki without restrictions on the content that can be posted…

  2. As Alan says, ask the engineers, here is a reply:

    I have used e-logs (call them electronic lab books) with wiki and twitter for creating a diverse set of formal and informal tools to aid supervision. The work is in a Journal that the HEA-EngSC will publish later this year titled Technology assisted project supervision (TAPaS)

    The TAPaS paper should be out soon on (Nov -ish)

    In the mean time if you are interested the EngSC did a case study on this and another of my work

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