The Missing Link: Augmenting Biology Laboratory Notebooks


Using a participatory design process, we created three prototype augmented laboratory notebooks that provide the missing link between paper, physical artifacts and on-line data.

Using a participatory design process, we created three prototype augmented laboratory notebooks that provide the missing link between paper, physical artifacts and on-line data. The final a-book combines a graphics tablet and a PDA. The tablet captures writing on the paper notebook and the PDA acts as an “interaction lens” or window between physical and electronic documents. Our approach is document-centered, with a software architecture based on layers of physical and electronic information.

A-book, Augmented laboratory note-books, Augmented reality, interactive paper, information layers, interaction lens, SVG

Research biologists face a complex information processing task, managing physical paper documents, physical research specimens, on-line documents and on-line services. They require paper laboratory notebooks for legal, historical and practical reasons, but they are also active computer users. This forces them to constantly juggle paper and electronic forms of the same information. We are exploring the concept of an “augmented laboratory notebook”, to develop a design space that provides the missing link between this physical and on-line information.
We created three prototypes, with active participation by research biologists, archivists and managers at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Each provides solutions to particular user needs, retaining the best aspects of paper, linking physical and electronic data, and creating on-line access to information that can be preserved for posterity.
The final prototype, the a-book, includes a paper notebook and introduces a novel interaction technique called the Interaction Lens. This palm-sized physical “window” between the physical and digital realm can be used as a seethrough tool or lens. The software is designed to handle persistent data, manage links and facilitate retrieval of a variety of archived information. including paper and electronic documents as well as other physical objects, such as live animals, research specimens and data images. We use a document-centered approach, with a multi-layer information architecture that crosses the boundary between physical and on-line objects.
This paper begins by presenting the results of our fieldwork with users. We then describe three working prototypes whose functionality were defined by these users and which explore different characteristics of an augmented laboratory notebook. We conclude by describing the document-based data architecture we developed to handle multiple layers of physical and electronic persistent data.

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