Splice has been actively following the changes and improvements of the Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) landscape to provide you the latest information. This April (2018) we updated our list of the Top 9 Best ELNs you can currently choose from. Our review is focused on ELNs that offer the best price-performance ratio.
ELNs from companies such as PerkinElmer, Agilent Technologies, BIOVIA (formerly known as Accelrys) and IDBS are missing from the list because their features are more appropriate for regulated environments and are often too expensive for academic labs. At the moment there areover 100 ELNs available to researchers. In this updated article, we are focusing on the top 9 of available ELNs that fit our criteria. Reviews can be seen below.
Paper-based lab notebooks
It is no secret that the paper-based laboratory notebook is the most widely used form of experimental data tracking in labs worldwide. It’s been around for several centuries (even da Vinci had one) and you will find it in the cabinet of every scientist. But does that necessarily imply that it’s also the most efficient way of recording scientific data?
Experimental records that aren’t being digitized account for 17% loss of all research data and lab books are becoming the bottlenecks in information management. This poses great repeatability threats, enormous costs and considerable limitations for knowledge sharing within an organization and the community.
To be fair, paper lab books seemed to have done the job pretty well so far and there are many features that make it great; e.g. they´re inexpensive and don’t require batteries to run. Yet there are only a few things we have not modernized for over a century, let alone a millennium. Technological advances simply make things better and you won’t find anyone doing their taxes on an abacus.
A glimpse of the future
Automation and digitization enabled researchers to achieve outputs like never before imaginable. With hundreds of emerging knowledge-sharing platforms, data can now be distributed globally before you can say “DNA”. The integration-based approach has allowed science to flourish and interoperability is swiftly becoming the new buzzword in modern research. Imagine all your instruments sending analytical data directly into a single software platform. No more running around with USB sticks, copy-pasting, printing, cutting and glueing. Please, do tell more.
Introducing the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)
ELN stands for Electronic Laboratory Notebook but it spans far beyond just a replacement for paper. It brings forth systematical, safe, and efficient data storage along with interoperable data distribution.
The majority of the recently developed ELNs are set up as cloud-based software (like Dropbox), which means, that researchers can also seamlessly collaborate in real time, eliminate tedious manual data exchange and overcome hurdles in communication. And best of all, an ELN doesn’t have to stay locked up in the lab when you leave.
Did I mention that electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) are coffee-proof?
Since 2000, when worldwide governments issued laws granting all electronic records the same validity as paper records, the number of available ELNs increased exponentially. Today, approximately 11% of labs already started implementing ELNs with an additional 75% showing interest in the technology. The fact that these numbers keep rising with every update to this article (annually) is a very good sign for ELNs and science in general. Yet naysayers remain, who often claim that using paper is easier than its electronic counterpart. But is it really? Universities conduct whole courses on paper lab book documentation – just look at this lab notebook maintenance manual from Columbia University and decide what is easier for yourself.
Whatever your stance on electronic lab notebooks may be, it is clear that a digital revolution is at our doorstep. With over 60 ELNs out there, it is really hard to decide where to even start. That is why we rounded up the 9 very best ELNs that will make your transition easier for when you choose to take that red pill.
Our criteria – ELN features under the magnifying glass
Graphical user interface (GUI)
Support (on-line support, available manuals and video tutorials)
INTEROPERABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY
Working with different operating systems and browsers
Each lab has its own set of expectations, intents, and capabilities, which will most likely never be fully met by a single universal ELN. Open source electronic lab notebooks provide a perfect solution, as they can be customized for specific applications and further inspire innovation from the community of end users. Free electronic lab notebooks also have higher adoption rates compared to those that have no option for a free user account as users take no risk by paying for something which at the end they don’t like.
Labs of the future will indisputably rely on interoperability of their instruments and devices. I believe that ELNs we have listed here will be capable to stand the test of time as they are already compatible with smartphones and tablets. The instruments will follow next.
It´s an exciting time to be a researcher. We are witnessing a digital revolution of science and we´ll get to explore the benefits it brings. The electronic laboratory notebook is at the helm of the revolution when it comes to labs and a much-needed breath of fresh air in experimental data management. There are now several great ELNs to choose from, each providing its unique set of tools to make your work easier and more effective. I hope this review will help you choose yours and make a step towards a digital tomorrow.
By Luka Zupancic MSc, University of Applied Sciences Technikum Vienna
*Splice is a scientific news blog funded by BioSistemika LLC, a software development company that also co-founded sciNote LLC (free open source ELN). All of the ELNs included in this review were scored by an independent author and researcher, based on the major criteria identified in the largest study on user perception of electronic lab notebooks ever published, to provide the most relevant and objective insights for our readers. The author states that the views and opinions are entirely his own.