Skip to content

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

We explore the use of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) as an effective means for capturing and preserving experimental metadata and insight. This is based on our experience and research into the topic.

Best practices for implementing an ELN in an academic environment

An Electronic Laboratory Notebook is a piece of software that allows lab notes to be recorded digitally, rather than using a traditional paper notebook. As a long time ELN user and System Administrator, Stuart explored the considerations around implementing an ELN in an academic setting as part of a published review,1 and the Complex Interface Team implement an ELN in their practice.

Ultimately, ELNs can save researchers significant amounts of time and provide a framework for better data sharing between colleagues, collaborators, and different generations of scientists. However, this can only be achieved if care is taken to consider the needs and context of the researchers.

How long does the average ELN last?

Over 170 historic and current ELN software packages were surveyed, with the data made freely and publicly available. One of the key findings was the limited lifespan of any ELN, with a median age of just 7 years.

Explore the survey data in the interactive figure below to find out which software packages have survived the longest:

View this figure fullscreen. Survey data publicly available via repository.

The ability to quickly access data across many years, without it being siloed or trapped within paper notebooks, is a key advantage of an ELN. Hence, care must be taken to ensure that irrespective of the software used, it must be easy to transfer data into and out of the system in a usable format.

The review discusses a range of other considerations, and also incorporates Stuart's experience from adminstering ELN servers across multiple research groups.

Read the full review article here

  1. Higgins SG, Nogiwa-Valdez AA, Stevens MM, Considerations for Implementing Electronic Laboratory Notebooks in an Academic Research Environment, 2022, Nature Protocols, DOI: 10.1038/s41596-021-00645-8