Webinar – Electronic Lab Notebooks under the Spotlight

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Which are the main advantages of Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs)? Is your research data safe in the cloud? When is the Internet of Things coming to the laboratories? If you would like to get answers to these questions, we recommend you to listen to the ELNs under the Spotlight Webinar with Klemen Zupancic, PhD, CEO sciNote LLC and Jana Erjavec, PhD, Product Manager sciNote LLC.

“ELNs will have an important role in connecting different lab devices in the future. We want to give the freedom to the scientists so that they can make these connections and they are not dependent on the vendors.”

The webinar addressed the following topics:

Is it hard to change from paper to electronic lab notebook?

“We love paper, there are many benefits to paper notebooks, but there are many limitations as well. For example, we have to have a linear thought process when we’re doing science. You put the entry of what happened today, then tomorrow etc. But science is different. You always start in one direction, come back, restart and grow from there. It is a scattered approach, and when you add collaboration to this, then paper is unfortunately a limitation in the process…

If we are using paper notebooks, it is impossible to connect them to all the digital data that we are producing at the same time. So if I’m doing measurements, I have to store excel spreadsheets somewhere. Either on my laptop or on the server of the University. It is hard to connect those spreadsheets to my paper notebook unless I’m printing them out and pasting them in the notebook. With the rapid growth of data, this will slowly become impossible.

What do people expect from an ELN?

We did a study in which we asked a lot of detailed questions on the usage of ELNs in the labs across the globe. Most answers defined the ease of use, safety and free account as the most important ELN features. Which also correlates with the fact that for most of us, transition from the paper notebooks to a new, complex and expensive software is a major drawback. In the study we also got valuable insight into major barriers in ELN notebook adoption which allowed us to focus our development on removing those barriers.”

Which are the pros and cons of a cloud software vs desktop software?

“Desktop software is a software that is installed on your pc, laptop etc. What are the benefits of the cloud software? Well, they begin with the fact that you are more mobile if your data is not tied to one computer, collaboration and sharing the files among team members is easier and faster, you can access the data from multiple devices, even from home or if you are travelling to a conference. But a lot of scientists are concerned about data safety and security.”

“All storage devices have their limitations. Nothing is bulletproof.”

“So let’s talk about data safety. What nobody wants is to wake up one day and realize that all the data has been deleted and have no idea how to retrieve the data. But this is something that can happen regardless of where you keep your data. All storage devices have their limitations. Nothing is bulletproof. Even the hardware of your PC can crash. So it is good to have backup. Cloud software systems are much better when you need to back up your data. Even in case of larger disasters it is much more likely that you will be able to retrieve your data safely. Also, the lifespan of disks and hardware is 5-10 years, so if you want to be a good data manager, you would need to change them every 5-10 years or face the increased risk of losing your data. In a cloud however, all this can be automated and a lot of vendors also offer automated backups of your data.”

Which are the current data management challenges?

“Data security – a lot of people are concerned about putting data in the cloud and potential hacking. This is a legitimate concern. Here, it is important to know that there are no hack-proof systems. Any system that is out there can be hacked. That being said, as long as you are saving data on your computer that is connected to the internet, your laptop can be hacked into. So… who am I to say that my personal computer is safer than Amazon servers for example? Amazon probably has thousands of security engineers employed whose single worry is that people don’t hack the data. 10 years ago, the situation was different, but today we do all our banking through the cloud accounts. So the major question here is whether the cloud can be secure enough for us to do science and the answer would be yes.”


When can we expect Internet of Things in research laboratories?

“There is the Internet of things revolution coming up, in which all devices can be connected – you have a phone that can talk to your car and your TV. The same is coming to the labs. There are small elements that are getting connected. If we really want to connect all devices in a lab, an ELN is a good way to start. First, we would need to standardize the way these devices talk to each other i.e. how the data is created and shared. A lot of this can be done by open standards, open source software, open APIs etc. We want to give the freedom to the scientists so that they can make the connections and they are not dependent on the vendors. ELNs will have an important role in connecting different lab devices in the future.”


By Tea Pavlek, MSc