As the world around us continues to evolve, so too does the laboratory environment. Modern laboratories are no longer operating in isolation, and fostering collaboration between laboratory personnel as well as between entire laboratory groups has accelerated innovation through shared ideas and resources. There are many ways to support collaboration, and transitioning from paper laboratory notebooks to an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) with integrated inventory management is an essential step.
More Than a Lab Notebook
Ranging from drug development by large pharmaceutical companies to mechanistic research in a small academic lab, and everything in between, preparing to run an experiment involves selecting the appropriate protocol, tracking down the necessary supplies, and setting up equipment. Time spent searching the laboratory for supplies or reagents, or worse, realizing the supply has run out in the middle of an experiment, costs valuable time and creates an inefficient laboratory. Inventory management software enables users to track reagent quanity, location, and consumption, and operates as a central platform to re-order and track orders from multiple suppliers. When inventory management is integrated with an ELN, users have all the necessary information at their fingertips prior to beginning an experiment.
Optimally-functioning instruments are also critical to successful experiments and high-quality data, however, routine service and calibration is often overlooked. The resulting malfunctions can bring a workflow to a grinding halt. Integrating instruments into a single platform with ELN and inventory management capabilities provides users maintenance reminders, calibration log storage, and enables equipment scheduling to maximize productivity.
Better Notes for Consistent Experiments
Accurate, detailed notetaking is a valuable laboratory skill. Anyone who has had to decipher a protocol jotted down in a notebook as an afterthought will attest to the value of clear, detailed notes. Good notes not only save time and frustration, they are also essential to ensure accurate, reproducible protocols and SOPs.
An ELN offers users the ability to create a comprehensive experiment that includes important concepts, diagrams, images, and videos in addition to a protocol, and prevents important information from being dispersed across multiple lab notebooks. This consolidation simplifies experimental setup, for example, with the inclusion of images of cable connections or instrument positions and settings. It also improves reproducibility, as the ability to share this protocol with multiple scientists provides each colleague with access to the same, most up-to-date version. This is an enormous advantage for large laboratories, or those with multiple sites, as the same information may be accessed from anywhere.
Protocol availability also contributes to consistency. Unlike a paper lab notebook which may be misplaced or lost when a current staff member leaves the laboratory, an ELN offers a repository for protocols and notes to ensure consistent methodology throughout staffing transitions.
Real-Time Collaboration and Improved Data Quality
The shift toward more collaborative environments relies on clear and frequent communication. Waiting days or weeks to discuss progress and results at the next lab meeting is inefficient and archaic. ELNs enable rapid, real-time collaboration and data review, so that collaborators can spot and address problems sooner, for better experimental outcomes and fewer wasted resources.
Many labs rely on a combination of paper notebooks for documentation, and locally stored data and file servers, posing challenges for adherence to Good Scientific and Laboratory Practice. Alternatively, an ELN introduces digital standards and offers structured data capture to increase accountability via data audit trails. The ability to manage user roles and permissions, and e-signature capabilities support laboratories in achieving and maintaining FDA 21 CFR Part 11 compliance.
Further, locally stored data and manual transcription are no longer sufficient to support improved technology and instruments capable of generating enormous amounts of data. The emergence of internet-connected instruments enables integration of data input to an ELN, reducing potential data loss and transcription errors, and allowing team members to access data at any time. This approach also enables secure data encryptions and backups to protect data assets.
The Future of Collaboration
Collaboration is undoubtedly the future of scientific research. However, it is challenging to select the right tools to support this changing approach, especially with so many suppliers in the life science industry. Quality and integrity are fundamental to good science, and working with companies that prioritize these attributes ensures superior products and support. MilliporeSigma is invested in science, with decades of experience and the expertise to support your research. With innovative solutions like BrightLab, the cloud-connected ELN with integrated inventory management and instrument scheduling, the future of collaboration is bright.
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