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Report
Electronic Lab
Notebooks (ELNs)
The opinions of physical chemists
Isobel Hogg and Alisa Becker
January 2015
Today’s aims
•
Introduction to the project
•
Methodology
•
Results
•
Barriers to implementation
•
Impressions and conclusions
•
Next steps
What is an ELN and why are
we interested?
“An electronic lab notebook (also known as electronic
laboratory notebook, or ELN) is a computer program
designed to replace paper laboratory notebooks.”1
1
•
Interest in ELNs in place of paper lab notebooks has increased in recent
years, most notably in the pharmaceutical industry e.g. Accelrys and
LABTrack
•
Faraday Division Council expressed concerns that ELNs may not meet
the needs of physical chemists
•
We decided to interview a range of members of the physical chemistry
community to assess their needs for ELNs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_lab_notebook
Methodology
• 20 telephone interviews with
physical chemists
• All academics
• 50% supervisors, 50% group
members (post-graduate
students & post docs)
Location of
interviewees
Areas of research
Interview themes
1. Problems with current ways of working
2. User experiences of ELNs
3. Attitudes to data sharing
4. Suggested requirements for ELNs
1. Practicalities
2. System design (interface, archiving, narration)
3. Features
1. Problems with current ways
of working
• There is often a lack of narrative and
poor levels of note taking (90%)
• Difficult to find previous work / no
effective data management system
(75%)
Lack of narrative and poor levels
of note taking
•
70% of supervisors and 80% of group members said this
•
Suggested reasons included:
o
o
o
o
o
o
•
Illegible handwriting
Time consuming
Not considered a priority at the time
Not realising how difficult it would be to remember what the
work was until it was too late
Being partially sighted
Laziness
Researchers found this to be a problem with both their own
work AND that of former group members
Difficulties finding previous work
People who have problems finding
archived data
5%
“I often end
up repeating
work”
“We have stacks of lab
books but they are
often hard to decipher
and not very well
organised”
Yes
10%
No
10%
Rarely
75%
“I’m quite worried
that when I come
to write things up
it is going to be a
struggle”
“We have big
issues looking at
other people’s
work once they
have left”
Not
answered
“Very few people leave behind
one comprehensive source
where all their data is”
2. Experience of ELNs and
current use
15%
15%
70%
Experience & don't
use
Experience & use
No experience &
don't use
Breakdown of the 30% who had experience:
• The “experience and don’t use” were all group members
• The “experience and use” were all supervisors
Experience of data management
systems/ELNs
People using any sort of data management
system/ELN
Non user
50%
50%
User
DM Systems:
• General digital notebook (i.e. OneNote)
• Spreadsheet
• Database
Requirement for a data
management system
Researchers who would welcome a helpful data
organisation system
5%
15%
Yes
Not answered
No
80%
Quotes from researchers on the prospect of
using an ELN
“I’d be very open
to the idea of
using one [an
ELN] but none of
the teams I’ve
worked in have
had them”
“It makes more
sense to make the
whole thing
electronic”
“A software version
where you can move all
your data around and
keep it in one place is
very appealing”
“I’d definitely
be open to the
idea of using
one”
“A better archiving
process would
save me hours of
time”
“I need a program that
makes recording and
managing all information
related to my research
easy and quick”
User experiences of ELNs
Benefits
1. Good to have a
central data storage
place for everything
2. Improved
accessibility to data
“It works really
well in terms of
getting the
dialogue and
discussion”
User experiences of ELNs
Difficulties
1. Great idea but
performed really
badly
2. Many well
developed ELNS
are unaffordable
for academia
“Poor ability to
tabulate data”
“The big hurdle
is getting people
to not write
notes in lab
books on the
side”
“Inability to
write equations
is what stopped
us using it”
3. Attitudes to data sharing
Would you like to share more of your
own data?
20%
Would you use other people's data
before it has been published?
20%
Not
answered
Yes
20%
No
Not really
30%
Yes
60%
10%
40%
20% yes were group members
Not
answered
10% yes were group members
No
4. Suggested requirements for
ELNs
• Practicalities
• System design (interface,
archiving, narration)
• Features
Practicalities
1.
One comprehensive source which keeps everything
together (65%)
o
2.
Portable with flexible accessibility (60%)
o
3.
One central place (i.e. like Dropbox) through which they can
access all their work, including data.
The ability to move the lab book around the lab and for
themselves and their group to view the information from
anywhere
Affordable with reliable and well maintained IT infrastructure
o
o
o
Funding for hardware and software
Ongoing costs need consideration
Must be available on different operating systems (60%)
System design
1.
Effective interface design – both flexible and
structured templates, easy, intuitive, effective &
quick to use interface with a systematic logging
system (95%)
2.
Easy way to record narrative and improve note
taking (90%)
3.
Improve organisational structure of own work
with an easy to use data archiving/storage system
that is searchable (60%)
Features
1. Different access rights, a digital time
stamp, electronic signatures, and track
changes/roll-back functionality
2. Ability to create links to outputs from
experiments
3. Ability to draw graphs, write equations,
enter tables, experimental set-up sketches
digitally and with a hand stylus/ drawing
tool
Features continued…
General Features
Physical Features
Ability to link to..
Molecular graphic
system
Equation writer
Physical portability
around the lab
Mathematica, Matlab,
Labview
Automatic graph
drawing
Electronic signature
/Digital time stamp
Hand stylus/ drawing
tool
Jpg files, ASCII files,
potentio stat files
Automated storing of
equipment parameters
Mark/flag/tag files like in
Outlook
Video
PDFs, instrument
manuals, group
presentations, posters
Templates
Hover-over definitions
Webcam
Spectra
Automatic file name
generation
Security/password
protection
Chemical
resistant/waterproof
(tablet case)
Literature
Suitable for different
operating systems
Different access rights
Voice recording/
recognition
Screen prints
“Free” interface
Roll back system
Tables
Searchable
Photoshop
Barriers to Implementation
1.
Timing of the switch will effect how easy it is for
researchers to change their way of working
2.
It might not be possible to implement all suggested
features e.g.
•
•
Photoshop and being affordable
A handwriting tool and being searchable
3.
When work is visible to others, it may affect what
researchers record
4.
Costs and infrastructure may affect use in academia
Impressions & Conclusions
• The physical chemistry community have
limited experience of ELNs
• There’s enthusiasm and positive attitude
towards:
– the concept of an ELN
– a data management system
– improvements in narrative recording and
organisation of data
• It isn't enough to develop an electronic version
of a paper notebook – there are other
requirements

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