ELNs, a new way to manage research

Friday, 26 April 2013 in Science by Astrid Pellieux

A laboratory notebook records every steps of a research work, from the submission of a hypothesis to the establishment of a conclusion. So, it’s an important tool for researchers to keep lasting traces of the laboratory activities. Since years, researchers use paper laboratory notebooks (PLNs) to manage data. However, with the advent of technology, electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are now spreading throughout the research world. Those ELNs provide a strong potential in the management of research.

A laboratory notebook fulfills various roles. Firstly, it is a management tool allowing researchers to daily report every things about their work. It contains hypothesis, experiment protocols, results, primary interpretations, and things that might be done later. Thus, it provides a working base for all members of a laboratory team, as well as a memory record. Secondly, a laboratory notebook also serves for legal purposes. It is used to file a patent, and sometimes, as a legal recourse in case of intellectual property conflicts.

Since years, researchers use paper laboratory notebooks (PLNs) to report their work. Due to its use for legal issues, each PLN follows necessary rules. First of all, the title of the notebook must be well explicit to not allow any interrogations about its content. Moreover, a PLN is obligatory a bound book with numbered pages to prevent a page’s deletion or/and addition. Concerning the writing content, some rules must also be applied:

A PLN is a very important tool for researchers. However with the modernization of many laboratory tools and the multiplication of digital data, using PLNs nowadays might provide some disadvantages. That’s why electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) are now spreading throughout the research world as an alternative solution.

Hivebench, the ELN of Shazino

An ELN enhances the data management effectiveness of a laboratory. In the same way as a PLN, it allows a researcher to record each step of his laboratory work, while providing many other useful features. For example, one of the most interesting things about ELN is that every data and files are stored in one place. In fact, different file formats such as a picture or a video formats are directly available within the ELN. Another advantage is the possibility for researchers to save time. For instance, ancient data may rapidly be found and reused with the searching tool and filters of the ELN.

In addition to their data management function, ELNs are collaborative tools. They allow researchers to work together in a same project and to share data with collaborators. Moreover, with web component and mobile devices, an ELN is available anytime and anywhere.

Thus, ELNs supply convenient features for researchers facilitating their work.
However, all this is useless if ELNs fail to fulfill their legal recognition role for the recorded data as PLNs do. That’s why a good ELN must comply with legal requirements. For example, one first step is to ensure the data security by limiting access to authorized individuals only. For further needs like patent registration, that’s the responsability of a laboratory to get the better ELN solution allowing to do so. To find information helping to choose an ELN, see the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance concerning electronic records and signatures.

At Shazino, we released Hivebench. It is an ELN designed as a web platform to help biology researchers collaborate and organize their experimental results. You can try it for free for 30 days here.

For more information about ELNs:
ELN blog
Electronic lab notebook – University of Wisconsin Madison