A good laboratory notebook is the lifeblood of a successful laboratory, serving as a vital repository for retaining valuable experiment data. There’s nothing more frustrating than — when looking to replicate an experiment that a former colleague ran — to find that the experimental details were limited (or absent), necessitating that you re-optimize the entire procedure wasting valuable time and resources. In a recent Nature Study, over 70% of researchers surveyed have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than 50% have failed to reproduce their own experiments, further justifying the importance of keeping detailed experiment records.
Several years ago as an undergraduate working in an organic synthetic chemistry laboratory, I made it a habit to be incredibly detailed in the experimental information and observation sections of my paper notebook. However, I found it painfully laborious when re-running previous experiments to have to either completely re-write all the experimental information/observations, or to reference a previous experiment. Even more painful? The fact that I more often than not referenced the wrong experiment!
As I began to collaborate more with my chemistry colleagues, my newfound challenge was around the ability to easily share my experimental procedures. I had to remember which paper notebook/experiment number contained the experiment of interest, which in turn required that I spend a lot of time rummaging through 10+ paper notebooks to find that single experiment. Paper notebooks take up valuable bench space, and—as one who runs dozens of experiments at any given time knows all too well— every inch of bench and hood space is valuable.
When I got to graduate school, the laboratory that I joined was transitioning to the PerkinElmer Signals™ Notebook, a browser-based electronic laboratory notebook (ELN). Signals Notebook has literally transformed the way in which I take notes and keep track of my lab experiments for the better.
ELNs: What’s in Them for You? A few crucial benefits of using ELNs – and in particular, Signals Notebook–are captured below:
Electronic Notebooks Facilitate Collaboration:
As aforementioned, there was nothing more frustrating than having to search through several paper notebooks to find a single experiment to share with a colleague. The good news is that, unlike paper notebooks, electronic laboratory notebooks are accessible from any computer and can be easily shared with other researchers, greatly facilitating collaboration between colleagues. Furthermore, it is also possible to share permissions with colleagues, allowing them to search through the notebook as I actively use that same notebook.
Electronic Notebooks Store Information Online:
We live in an ‘everything’s in the cloud’ 21st century world, so storing your valuable experiments in a structured online format allows for easy access by individual researchers/collaborators and also those collaborators who require a password for entry. Experiments and data are secure 24/7. As we look ahead, more tools will be developed that cater to electronic records, so scientific researchers will continue to enjoy the time savings, accuracy and other perks of electronic laboratory notebooks as the paperless digital framework of the laboratory expands.
Electronic Laboratory Notebooks are Searchable:
Have a specific structure you’re looking for? ELNs allow a user to simply enter their structure of interest, and the notebook will return back every experiment that either contains that specific structure or substructures of said structure. What’s more, if colleagues have shared their experiments with you, it’s also possible to search across colleagues’ notebooks further catalyzing collaboration. No more rummaging through old paper notebooks to find a single experiment.
Electronic Laboratory Notebooks Are Green:
Each year, the world produces a staggering 300 million tons of paper. Eliminating paper notebooks eliminates most use of paper in a laboratory (profound I know!). This is a wonderful benefit for the environment and also minimizes the cost for researchers who find themselves continually buying paper notebooks.
Electronic Laboratory Notebooks Allow For Easy Upload of Data:
Take a ton of TLCs? Maybe run a bunch of NMR/HPLC on a given reaction? With ELNs, you seamlessly drop and drag the PDFs into your notebook, ensuring that you always have your data online for your own benefit, as well as having the ability to share data with colleague and supervisors for ongoing research updates.
Signals Notebook Runs Through ChemDraw®:
If you make molecules, you use ChemDraw, simple as that. An electronic laboratory notebook with ChemDraw built in allows for easy export/import of experimental information and reaction schemes for research updates/presentations, saving you the time of having to redraw compounds/reaction schemes.
21st Century Science Made Simpler
Save yourself numerous headaches and get an electronic laboratory notebook for your lab. Most research communities— from a technological point of view— have been dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming because of the large upfront costs required by new instruments and technologies designed to save time and resources. Signals Notebook is different. The ELN platform is inexpensive and greatly catalyzes the fast-paced, collaborative workflow of modern science happening in 21st century labs. I can’t even imagine at this point of my career going back to a paper notebook.
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