Lab Books – evolution required

I have to admit, I am ridiculously bad at keeping my lab book up to date despite it being a requirement of UoA staff and students. However I have kept a word doc as a log. In here I document everything e.g. reagents, protocols ,results including pasted in graphs or photos created in other programs. This is a band aid approach which I am having to currently rectify by transcribing into written format.


Lab books are used to record the source of all experimental data and procedures to allow another individual (of similar experience) to understand, perform and obtain similar results. It has primary importance when intellectual property needs to be secured. They become the reference source for patents especially in the U.S. where patent rights are granted to ‘first to invent’.

The digital age has infiltrated the scientific community, catalysed by the completion of the human genome, with journals moving online, digital databases of genomic information, bioinformatic software and a lot of the lab equipment used today is linked to some form of a computational device for data collection. Given this monumental digital shift, how is it that lab books have resisted this change? Is it just the grey hairs of science simply resisting change?

The fact is that it is hard to beat pen on paper for making something a legal document with its contents authorised on a regular basis. Their contents can’t be changed / edited like a word doc can. However this is sure to be merely a small obstacle that can be overcome in this day and age. Furthermore, electronic lab books enable a series of other benefits such as: searchability, they can be electronically backed up, easily shared, easy referencing with hyperlinks, allow easy incorporation of images/ graphs and the most important of the lot, legibility.

Doing a quick Google search I have come across a few serious players, and a piece of software developed for Agilent Technologies

I actually came across a 2005 Nature article ( about this very topic. In it states “ The pitfalls of paper are estimated to cost the drug industry alone over $1 billion annually in lost opportunities and duplicated research.”

I smell an opportunity and with the launch of the iPad I feel someone must be tinkering away developing a smart app.

The above 2005 article also  also points out that uptake of electronic lab books has been problematic . And given it is now 2010 and the topic is still being debated, I suspect this issue continues.

The new generation of scientists coming through the ranks are extremely computer savvy and have already embraced the digital age with arms wide open at a very young age. So as can someone please build the solution we are all looking for– I’ll be a beta tester!

Refer to another article about electronic lab books on one of my favourite blogs BiteSizeBio


Graeme @


2 responses to “Lab Books – evolution required

  1. Nice post. I do not work in a lab myself I can see that the most important aspect required is versioning of information. A system to store every change that has taken place, one where old versions cannot be deleted even by the user that created it.

    I don’t know if you played around with Google Wave. It has (should really say had) this feature where you slide to browse the history of a wave.

    An open source platform, that has mandatory timestamped versioning of information, and runs on any OS. xHTML mentioned in the linked post sounds pretty good.

  2. At the risk of a commercial intrusion, I wanted to introduce myself and my company, LabArchives, which recently introduced an intuitive, web-based Electronic Laboratory Notebook product. LabArchives ( is available in a fully-functional free version, and our Professional version is priced at just $99 per year (per user). We would welcome the opportunity to give you a personal (over the Web, that is) demonstration of LabArchives at your convenience.

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