Life Scientists Can View the World as a Laboratory: Digital Lab Tools to Support Discovery


digital lab
To a life scientist, the NYC subway can be a place in which to make scientific discoveries.
Image Source: Sallicio via Wikimedia Commons

Most scientists attempt to work in a controlled environment like a laboratory. This enables them to set up control and test groups for experimentation. However, life scientists often view the world as their laboratory and look for digital tools that can support their unconventional experiments. Chris Mason, a genomics researcher from Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City, is one of these life scientists who considers each place he visits to be a place for discovery. He recently demonstrated this by organizing a team to map the vastness of the bacteria present within the New York City subway system.

To perform their tests, the group used nylon swabs to gather samples and mobile phones to track locations. The tested samples were then matched to locations in order to provide a microbial map of the subway system and all of the bacteria found in it. Interestingly, the map identified 637 known species of bacteria including viruses, fungi and microscopic animals. However, nearly 48% of the samples taken were from bacteria species that had not yet been identified.

As scientists seek to learn more about the world around us, there is an increasing need to step outside of the laboratory and perform tests at the source. However, to do this will take a number of unique digital lab tools, including the following:

  • Mobile tablets – When moving about in the real world, scientists do not have the luxury of desktop computers. Instead, they need to be able to access data within the palm of their hand. Mobile tablets allow scientists to work freely in multiple environments while accessing notes and data as they go. In addition, mobile tablets can provide a number of other helpful outdoor tools including a camera for photos and videos, and voice recorder.
  • Scientific apps – Once in the field, there is a need to access data and other key bits of information that is usually researched in the laboratory. One of the best ways to access this information is through scientific apps that can be downloaded and added to a mobile tablet. Currently, there is a wide range of apps available to scientists, including one search engine app that allows life scientists to search for antibodies and another that serves as a scientific calculator.
  • GPS locator – When recording observations, it is sometimes important to note specific locations where events occurred. This can be easily accomplished with a GPS location device. Locators may also be available as an app download or built into a mobile tablet.
  • Electronic laboratory notebook – Another concern of the outside scientist is the ability to record and capture notes. Although this has been traditionally performed using a paper notebook, an electronic laboratory notebook installed on a mobile tablet might be a better solution. The benefits of an ELN include the ability to record pictures, sound bites and video, and store all of them in a single location.

Although it is not appropriate to leave the laboratory for all experiments, there are some instances where it may be better. With the support of digital lab tools, the laboratory can be safely left behind and new observations can be made in the open world. For more information regarding the BIOVIA Notebook and its use in the life sciences, please visit our site today.

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