Managing 3000 Contributors within a Research Project? Try An Electronic Laboratory Notebook

Digital Solutions

Even the casual observer can see that there are some major changes occurring within the scientific community. Scientists are creating new tools that peer further into space and deeper into atomic particles. More devices are becoming available that facilitate collaboration and interaction amongst scientists. As the means of discovery changes and collaboration increases, scientists need to evaluate whether their documentation standards are changing at the same rate.

Current Documentation Standards

The de facto standard of record in science is the paper laboratory notebook. However, the very nature of a paper lab notebook creates isolation and prevents common standards from forming. The main problem with these notebooks is that there are few consistent rules for recording and documenting data. This has culminated in divergent ways of recording both experimental and laboratory results.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks can free the information stored inside
Laboratory notebooks become silent silos by retaining their information inside.
Courtesy of wikimedia.org

The Need for a Common Standard

In the past, it was not uncommon to hear about the lone wolf scientist. These were individuals like Galileo Galilei and Sir Isaac Newton, who worked alone to make incredible discoveries in science, astronomy and math. Even Marie Curie principally worked alone in the lab to make her various discoveries in the field of chemistry.

However, it appears that the age of the solo scientist has passed. In an article on collaboration, the journal Nature noted that prior to 1980, it was rare to have more than a handful of authors listed on a paper. However in 2011, over 44 papers were submitted each containing 3000 authors as contributors!

As collaboration increases, there is a growing need for a common standard of recording experimental results. It would be difficult to harmonize or summarize the experimental recording and notes from over 3000 authors if there was not some commonality in the way they recorded and documented their findings within their laboratory notebook.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks ensure documentation is the same regarless of contributors
This is just the collaboration within one department at one university! Without common documentation standards, the results can be submitted in any format, creating a massive puzzle in itself.
Courtesy of: www.liacs.nl

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks – The Best Way to Standardize Documentation

One of the core benefits of an electronic laboratory notebook is that the system can be configured to require all experiments to follow a similar format. For example, at a company I met with recently, management wanted all experiments to be recorded in the following manner:

  1. Hypothesis
  2. Experimental Setup
  3. Results
  4. Conclusion

To address their request, their electronic laboratory notebook was configured to prevent an experiment from being closed until the above fields contained some kind of text.  Configuring their system in such a way ensured that every scientist working on a particular project submitted their notebook data in the same format.

Unlike their paper counterparts, electronic laboratory notebooks can be configured to ensure that notes and results are recorded following the same standards. This frees the information from paper laboratory notebooks and enables it to be used by others.  Once a format has been selected, every experiment will be recorded in that manner until the format is changed.

Benefits of Standardization

When a company decides to remove the paper laboratory notebook silos from around their lab data, a whole new world of possibilities becomes available including the following:

  • Searchability – Recording results in a standardized format improves the search capabilities within the electronic lab notebooks, making the collaboration process more efficient.
  • Data Linking – As collaboration increases, the importance of linking similar research together becomes more important. Standardization renders this task easily accomplished.

As the scientific world evolves, we need to ask if we are changing with it. Collaboration and digital tools are becoming the standard in labs around the world. The next logical step is to formalize the process of data recording. This can only be accomplished through the implementation of an electronic laboratory notebook.

If you would like to know more about how the Accelrys electronic laboratory notebook can improve the collaboration process within your projects, please visit our website today.

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