Electronic Laboratory Notebook Pilot

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Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) pilot - A trial for the Division of Health of the University of Otago

News: Survey of Researchers at Otago link: [1]

All labs currently using a paper based approach to the management of laboratory data and research results will have the potential to benefit from this project. The ability to share, protect, manage and integrate valuable laboratory data is made much easier through electronic capture. This project will serve as a pilot to identify an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) technology that is suitable for cross‐campus use at the University of Otago.

Link to News and updates

Link to [Quick overview of eCAT][2]

Frequently asked questions about the eCAT trial at Otago Otago_FAQ

Description of project This project will serve as a pilot to identify an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) technology that is suitable for cross‐campus use at the University of Otago, particularly the Division of Health and School of Medical Sciences. It will require the employment of someone (referred to hereafter as the "coordinator") to assess a range of ELN options, in collaboration with potential end users of these technologies.

A small number of labs will be identified as "exemplar" users for participation in this project (currently three labs within the biochemistry department have volunteered to participate, and this will be extended to include other labs with whom they collaborate within the division, as well as some representative labs from other departments).

Members of these labs will interact with the study coordinator to help identify the key capabilities required of an ELN. Based on these requirements, the coordinator with then assess a number of ELN options, selecting a subset for in‐depth trial within the exemplar labs (these will involve the use of an ELN by existing lab members).

This could involve a “request for information from commercial suppliers’ (the University of Wisconsin has done this recently and included CERF and eCAT in the pilot http://academictech.doit.wisc.edu/ideas/electronic-lab-notebooks).

The study coordinator will monitor the usage of the ELNs throughout the trial, and will interact extensively with the participating groups to document usage. Interaction with Research and Enterprise will also be required, to ensure that the ELNs being trialled meet Intellectual Property protection requirements. ITS will also need to be involved in the assessment process, as ongoing support for any systems implemented will need to be coordinated through the ITS HelpDesk.

At the end of the trial, a recommendation on the most appropriate ELN for wide‐ spread deployment (and support) will be made.


The use of electronic approaches to data capture and annotation are making traditional methods of scientific recording less efficient every year. In addition, the existence of scientific workflow applications (e.g., Taverna and myExperiment) make paper based record keeping a process that is becoming increasingly removed from the practice of the research itself.
 This project proposes the evaluation and adoption of an appropriate software application to provide an “electronic laboratory notebook” to replace the paper based lab book currently in use throughout the university.
 A number of commercial and open source systems exist. These will need to be evaluated prior to making a final decision on implementing a campus wide solution.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

The Collaborative Electronic Notebook Systems Association (CENSA) describes an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) as follows: “An Electronic Notebook is a system to create, store, retrieve, and share fully electronic records in ways that meet all legal, regulatory, technical and scientific requirements.”

There a a wide variety of ELN’s available and for the last ten years it has commonly been reported that they had come of age and would replace the traditional notebook. This is often influenced by the many commercial suppliers (over 35, limswiki.org/index.php/ELN). ELN and LIMS systems have some overlap, most LIMS systems include a ELN. For Molecular Biology data and analyses desktop packages in use at Otago (e.g. Geneious, CLC Genome Workbench, DNAStar) maintain databases.

It is likely that changes will continue to make ELN more attractive, notably,

- Inexpensive wireless portable touchscreen devices (e.g. iPad) and laptops.

- Use of cloud technologies. But note current issues highlighted in Biotechniques and here.

- Regulations requiring separation between laboratory workspace (chemical, biologicals) and non-bench workspace (office and study areas)

- Increased legal acceptance of electronic notebooks.

This change has happened in some places notably in high-throughput pharmaceutical applications, and bioanalytical laboratories mainly with LIMS and ELN systems. Astra Zeneca, Biovitrum and Eastman Kodak, amongst others, have all claimed short term time savings in the order of 10 -15%. The features of these LIMS systems are not relevant to many research groups at Otago. Current ‘Paper notebooks’ are a hybrid of almost fully electronic components e.g. spreadsheets; both print and electronic, e.g. photos of gels and cells; and paper based e.g. experimental aims, outlines, and written results. It is likely that a hybrid approach will continue as it has in other fields. This may involve an ELN as the primary notebook with hard copy of parts of it , and hardcopy of material not included in the ELN.

The coordinator for this trial (Marina Kazantseva) is funded from Contestable Division of Health ICT Strategic funds (2012) Organised by the Biochemistry ICT Committee (Reps:Chris Brown and Darren Hart)

Last update 22/7/2013 by CMB