Lab Organization Ideas for Life Science Researchers: How Technology Can Help


Innovative technology can help life science labs reduce clutter in order to support improvements in efficiency and productivity. Image Credit: Flickr user PlaxcoLab

Innovative technology can help life science labs reduce clutter in order to support improvements in efficiency and productivity. Image Credit: Flickr user PlaxcoLab

For life science researchers today, keeping a well-organized lab is essential for lab productivity and efficiency. With lab space at a premium in both industry and academia, it is important for life science researchers to find ways to reduce clutter. Nevertheless, when you walk into a life science lab today, the organizational state of the lab can vary widely. Some labs appear spotless and well-kept, as if no one was working there at all, while others can only be described as disaster zones, with the benchtops so cluttered with papers and supplies that it’s hard to imagine how researchers are able to find any room at all to run experiments.

One of the things that can distinguish well-organized labs from utter disasters is the  effective use of technology. There are a variety of ways in which innovative software solutions can help life science researchers get their labs organized and keep them that way. Read on to learn more about some basic lab organization ideas and how today’s technologies can support their implementation in your lab.

Idea 1: Reduce your reliance on paper notebooks.

One of the most significant sources of clutter in messy labs is paper notebooks. Especially in academic labs, where undergraduates, grad students, and postdocs move in and out every few years, there are often piles of old lab notebooks lining the shelves. In many cases, the PI would love to get rid of them, but it’s just not feasible because of the essential information they contain. With a succession of students and postdocs carrying ongoing projects toward completion, it is often necessary for new students to draw from the research of those who are gone — and that means constantly looking through old notebooks, scouring the pages for relevant data.

Not only does this waste time, but it can also take up a lot of space in your lab. In fact, keeping old lab notebooks handy may actually start to seem like a time saver, since researchers won’t have to search for the lab notebook itself, in addition to the relevant data. However, if your lab has gotten to the point where you’re making that calculation, it’s time to switch to embrace electronic lab notebook technology. With electronic lab notebooks (ELNs), data can be stored digitally, making it far easier for future researchers to access it. As a result, you won’t have to devote more and more valuable lab space to the storage of old notebooks.

Idea 2: Find better ways to share procedures between researchers.

Every lab researcher knows about the simultaneous benefits and challenges of sharing procedures and methods. On the one hand, utilizing the protocol of a colleague with previous experience in a particular experimental method can be extremely helpful, especially if you are doing a new experiment that includes unfamiliar techniques. A colleague’s notes can help you avoid making unnecessary errors, and they can highlight tips and tricks that aren’t highlighted in a standard kit but that can significantly improve experimental outcomes. There are also situations in which your colleague developed a method themself, and their protocol is the only one available.

On the other hand, the sharing of protocols is another common source of paper clutter in today’s life science labs. It is not uncommon to find loose-leaf copies of methods and procedures taped on bench tops, scattered across desks, or pinned to the wall next to the hood. Over time, as these pile up, they can be harder to keep track of. Plus, as researchers come up with procedure improvements and tweaks for experiment variations, the procedures themselves can get cluttered with new notes — which can mean that there might only be one “good” (updated) paper version of the procedure for lab members to use.

Again, technology can help your lab eliminate the organizational challenges associated with paper procedure sharing. For instance, new and existing protocols can be easily documented and updated in electronic laboratory notebooks. Additionally, there are new software options that are designed specifically to make it easy for researchers to develop, update, and share procedures. These software options can even be paired with mobile apps that can be used on tablets. That way, researchers won’t be running back and forth from the bench to the procedure taped on the wall, trying to make sure they aren’t skipping steps, or carrying around paper copies that end up getting left on the bench top and cluttering the lab.

Idea 3: Adopt a better lab inventory management strategy.

Poor lab inventory management strategies can also contribute to lab clutter. Like protocols, paper lists of needed reagents can take up wall space and/or clutter up the working areas of researchers and lab managers. With lab inventory management software, paper will no longer have to be a component of the reagent restocking process.

More significantly, the accumulation of containers can also get out of hand in some labs. Over the course of years, your lab many have acquired reagents that you have completely forgotten about and are now taking up valuable storage space. Also, poor lab inventory management can lead to over-ordering, which leaves your lab trying to find space for reagent containers that you do not even need. By accounting for all existing reagents, today’s lab inventory management software can help lab managers ensure that all reagent containers are worth the storage space they require.

If you’re looking to utilize technology to reduce the clutter in your lab, BIOVIA has what you need. Our Electronic Lab Notebooks improve data storage and accessibility, and with BIOVIA Compose and BIOVIA Capture procedures are easy to share and replicate among colleagues. BIOVIA CISPro also supports effective lab inventory management. Contact us today to learn more about all of our offerings!