Electronic lab notebooks: can they replace paper?


Despite the increasingly digital nature of society there are some areas of research that remain frmly rooted in the past

Despite the increasingly digital nature of society there are some areas of research that remain frmly rooted in the past; in this case the laboratory notebook, the last remaining paper component of an experiment. Countless electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) have been created in an attempt to digitise record keeping processes in the lab, but none of them have become a ‘key player’ in the ELN market, due to the many adoption barriers that have been identifed in previous research and further explored in the user studies presented here. The main issues identifed are the cost of the current available ELNs, their ease of use (or lack of it) and their accessibility issues across diferent devices and operating systems. Evidence suggests that whilst scientists willingly make use of generic notebooking software, spreadsheets and other general ofce and scientifc tools to aid their work, current ELNs are lacking in the required functionality to meet the needs of the researchers. In this paper we present our extensive research and user study results to propose an ELN built upon a pre-existing cloud notebook platform that makes use of accessible popular scientifc software and semantic web technologies to help overcome the identifed barriers to adoption.

Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs), Notebooking software, Cloud, Semantic web, Scientifc software

In scientifc research, communication is essential; between researchers, funding bodies, industry, and members of the public. Ideas need to be shared, evidence disseminated, plans discussed, fndings recorded, and errors corrected. Researchers may work alone, but their research is of little value to the scientifc community if it isn’t disseminated. Te scientifc record can act as a legally binding record that protects intellectual property (IP) [39]. Historically the paper laboratory notebook and the scientifc paper have been at the centre of this scientifc communication [12]; however this is being slowly replaced by the arrival of digital technologies and the Internet and the Web in particular [7].

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