Could Your Lab Leave a Legacy? An ELN Ensures Firms Maintain Data Integrity and Make a Mark in History

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Will your lab records withstand the test of time? Preserve data integrity through implementation of an ELN.
Image Source: Flickr user Ed Uthman

It was recently reported than scientists have found old, previously unanalyzed samples from the late chemist Stanley Miller. Amazingly, they were able to identify the samples and use them for experimentation! I have often wondered what would happen to my lab project if one day I spontaneously combusted. Are my samples labeled well enough so that a new scientist could come in and identify them? Is my lab notebook detailed enough that my boss or colleagues could read it and understand my experiments and not need to waste time and money repeating what I’ve already completed? Could they even find my lab notebook? Sadly, the answer to all of these questions is probably ‘no.’ I would like to think that I could leave a legacy with my lab and that future researchers could just find my samples and pickup where I left off. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen on its own.

If you want your lab to be able to leave a legacy with the work it does, you need to be systematic in the way studies are designed, experiments are performed and how data is collected and stored. Don’t leave this process up to chance. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) can help organize and streamline you laboratory processes and create a permanent detailed digital record of your daily operations that can support data integrity. The Accelrys Notebook incorporates these simple user-friendly features that can get your lab on track:

Fluid design of studies

The last day in my lab as a post doc, I sat down with all of my lab notebooks and tagged pages with important experiments for the new scientist who would be taking over my project.  As I flipped through the pages and read through all the experiments I had done, I frequently found myself thinking, “Now WHY did I do that experiment?” Most of the time, it had to do with my boss getting all excited about some new paper he read and being sure that the new approach would be the silver lining.  It’s easy to get off track in the research process.  I think that if I could have maintained a comprehensive list of all the experiments I performed for a given project, it would have kept us on track and allowed us to keep the big picture in sight. With a paper lab notebook, it can be difficult to organize your data by project. I always thought it would be nice to a have one notebook per project, but with the way we picked up new projects (and subsequently dropped them) I don’t think that would have been very practical. An ELN addresses this problem by allowing users to organize their entries by project. So, if you feel like your project jumps around a lot, you (and your boss) can easily view your project’s chronological list of experiments to make sure that each experiment follows the flow of the study.

Clear recordkeeping of experiments

In the event that someone needs to repeat your experiments, it is imperative that you have a clear, concise record of what you did. I know I often got so comfortable with a protocol that I would make a small, but important change and not update the respective protocol in my notebook. Most of the time, I was too busy to do an update and it was time consuming to rewrite the whole protocol rather than just put “used protocol as described on page xx.” An ELN can help decrease administrative burnout and automate many of the notebook entry processes you dread. The Accelrys Notebook offers the ability to clone previous notebook entries or insert frequently used protocols into your entry. This function makes sure that your entries are clear and concise for future follow-up.

Comprehensive data management

Data acquisition and analysis are integral to your lab’s success and longevity. Your data is the fruit of your labor and may produce new products, manuscripts or processes that could become a permanent part of history. It is important to keep permanent records of raw data in case you ever need to reanalyze or further support your initial findings. You can upload digital copies of data from lab equipment so your data is saved in its unaltered form. This is especially important in cases of hardware malfunction or user loss of data where data cannot otherwise be recovered. Digital signatures allow users to share findings with their managers for improved project oversight to ensure proper data handling.

Effective laboratory management can help instill longstanding data integrity. An ELN is a simple, effective approach to managing your lab and ensuring your lab’s legacy. Visit the Accelrys website to learn more about how the Accelrys Notebook can help organize your lab.

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