How to Choose the Right ELN for Your Laboratory

We are rapidly moving from paperwork to digital documentation, and laboratories have not been left behind. Labs need to keep a lot of data from their experiment for future use. Before the introduction of electronic lab notebooks (ELN), most laboratories used paper lab notes and stored them in filing cabinets.

The disadvantage of this method of keeping data is that retrieval requires a lot of time and energy, plus you would find some details missing if the notebook has been in storage for a long time. On the other hand, electronic lab notebooks have made it easier for scientists to create, store and retrieve the data from experiments. This post is about the different types of lab books on the market and how to choose the best one for you.

Electronic Lab Notebook

What is an Electronic Lab Notebook?

An ELN is a software used by scientists to document their research, procedures and experiments performed in a lab. Most scientists are replacing laboratory notebooks with ELN because they are easy to use and simplify data copying, backups and retrieval.

Most ELNs take the shape of a word-processor interface that allow users to key in data in the same way they write on a paper notebook. However, using an electronic notebook comes with additional benefits like simplified sharing and duplication of data as well as fast retrieval. The data in an electronic notebook is also safer, thanks to features like password protection and data backup.

An Electronic lab notebook including Sapio Sciences’ can also have other features that allow integration with other software to simplify collaboration and data management. For example, your ELN can be incorporated into the laboratory information management system (LIMS). Since the complexity and the availability of features vary in these softwares, your needs will define the best ELN for your laboratory.

Features of an Electronic Lab Notebook

Though features may vary among different ELN platforms, there are common features that should be available in an ELN for perfect functionality. Below are some of these features:

  • Specialist tools: These are the tools that makes it possible to use the notebook for recording data. These can be special characters, Custom templates and fields to help you categorise your work and many more. Some notebooks allow integration with other tools since some of the tools are not a standard feature in every electronic lab notebook.
  • Security features: These features help you protect the integrity of your research by only allowing the authorised individual to access the information. The feature will also help you give different levels of access to varying users. You may allow some to edit the document while others have read-only access. Additionally, you can track the changes made to the notebook and by whom.
  • Collaborative features: The collaborative features allows you to share the information with other people in your research group or any other interested party. This is very helpful as you may need to share some parts of your notebook with others, especially if you are the group leader.
  • Barcodes support: This feature will help you retrieve information quickly with a single scan.

How is ELN Different from LIMS?

Many people confuse electronic laboratory notebooks (ELN) with laboratory information management systems (LIMS), although LIMS was developed first. While these systems share some similar features, there are some differences between the two. One difference is that ELN is more personalised to fit an individual researcher’s needs, while LIMS is a pre-defined and generalised lab management tool.

Unlike ELN that is used to record research and experiments’ details, LIMS is designed for tracking the availability of supplies like reagents, chemicals and samples.

However, one can use these two systems collaboratively to simplify the whole process of running an experiment and recording the findings. For example, a scientist using an electronic lab notebook to capture data when running an experiment might need to use a LIMS to locate a reagent required for the experiment.

How to Choose the Right Electronic Lab Notebook for Your Laboratory

Choosing the right ELN for you depends on your data capturing and storage needs. You must also consider how you intend to use and analyse the data because different ELNs have different features. Below is a list of some of the factors to consider when choosing the best ELN for you.

  • Features and functionability: you should check if the ELM has all the features you need for data collection as well as analysis and sharing. Different ELMs have different features due to varying user needs.
  • Storage and security: Since lab data is often confidential, you should check the type of storage available for a particular ELN and the security features that come with it.
  • Cost: Most ELN have free versions, but you will be required to pay for additional features or storage space. Therefore, you should compare the packages available and choose the one that has all the features you need at an affordable cost
  • Usability: There is no need for choosing a complex system while there are other systems that you can navigate comfortably.