The Digital Revolution: How New Tools and Resources Are Advancing Scientific Research

In 1877, Charles Sanders Peirce wrote an article called “The Fixation of Belief” in which he characterized the scientific method as “the method wherein inquiry regards itself as fallible and purposely tests itself and criticizes, corrects and improves itself.” In this paper, he outlined the basic idea of the scientific method and forever changed how research was performed.

scientific research
Advancement within the digital revolution is changing how scientists perform scientific research.
Image source: Flickr user NTNU, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology

Fast forward 130 years and yet another revolution is changing how scientists approach and perform research. The digital revolution, which has resulted in advancements within automation, apps and big data, is again changing how scientists approach and perform research. Below are four ways that the digital revolution has affected the way laboratory research and experimentation is performed:

  1. Information Distribution and Consumption – Only ten years ago, print journals were the best way to disseminate information to a larger audience. Today, the best method of distribution is digitally, through an online journal or article. Journals like PLOS ONE and even outlets such as are making information accessible to even larger audiences across the globe. In addition, how information is distributed has also changed how we access and process this information. Today, scientists are utilizing Twitter and Google, as well as sharing ideas through other social media outlets. The digital revolution is changing the way that scientists find and develop ideas by making information more accessible and sharable.

  2. Mobile Applications – Although apps are certainly a good way to keep children entertained in the car, they also are playing an important role within the laboratory. For example, specially designed mobile apps allow scientists to access key information while working at the bench. The numbers of science apps are proliferating daily, including an app to view the human genome, a calculator for drawn organic chemicals and another that models and simulates pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in virtual human populations. These apps are changing the way scientists carry out their work by providing instant access to helpful tools.

  3. Electronic Laboratory Notebooks – Another advancement spurred by the digital revolution is the replacement of the paper notebook with an electronic version. Currently, the electronic notebook takes many formats, ranging from a tablet running Evernote to an enterprise-wide electronic notebook deployment like the Accelrys Notebook. The advantages of a digital notebook over a paper one include the ability to keyword search within the notebook for content and easily share with others.

  4. Laboratory Automation – One of the more interesting results of the digital revolution is the creation of automated laboratory processes. Systems are being designed to accept a series of instructions regarding the steps of an experiment and then executing these instructions on behalf of the scientist. This is an interesting development, because it allows scientists to focus more on developing theories and analyzing results instead of tedious, repetitive tasks associated with experiments.

  5. Big Data Analytics – One of the more recent achievements possible due to the digital revolution is the advancement of big data analytics. Big data management and analysis has allowed us to sequence genomes and create databases detailing information on the 89 million known organic and inorganic substances. Big data will create news ways to connect and link information within scientific study.

Like the scientific method, the digital revolution is a game changer. The advancements noted above are only part of the ways that science is changing in this new age. How is your laboratory changing in this new digital age? If you’re interested in updating how your laboratory functions, visit Accelrys today for information on all of our best practice digital tools.

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