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ELN: Electronic Lab Notebooks

We provide a wiki-based Electronic Lab Notebook solution (ELN-Wiki) to the research groups at the Biozentrum and other life science groups at the University of Basel.

The spectrum of digital laboratory information:

In the realm of digital lab data, three terms are commonly used to describe the primary use of any system employed for data capture and storage. ELN denotes electronic lab journals, where the foremost task is to record the rationale, course of events and outcome of individual experiments. LIM (Laboratory Information Management) systems manage information about stocks, samples, procedures and workflow. They handle the digital side of a laboratory's inventory and of the interconnectedness of the individual objects and data sets. Finally, Scientific Data Management Systems (SDMS) primariyl manage (large) digital data sets.  Here, the focus is on annotation, metadata, and facilitating analysis, either through built-in analysis pipelines or through programmatic access (APIs) to the data.

In the real world, many laboratory software solutions are positioned in-between two of these system use descriptions. Aligned on the top are some representative solutions currently in use at the Biozentrum for the management of scientific data. 

What is an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)?

An ELN in molecular biology:

  • Is a replacement for the paper lab notebook, where you write up experiments. 
  • Provides a verifiable record that and how an experiment was conducted.
  • Allows easy access to current and past experimental data

An ELN is not:

  • A central repository for all biological data generated
  • The tool responsible for uploading data into a result database
  • A tool to manage lab activities or stocks (i.e. it is not a LIMS)
  • A text mining tool

(Adapted from E.-L. Westberg, Astra-Zeneca)

Benefits of using the ELN Wiki

ELN-Wiki is a "paper on glass" approach for research documentation. Instead of using paper notebooks, you take your laboratory notes in an electronic format. 

Key features and benefits when switching to an electronic solution are: 

  • Searchability: All pages are full-text searchable, many attachments as well
  • Traceability: All changes are kept in a page's version history
  • Accessibility: You can access your notes from the lab or wherever you are at the moment
  • Collaboration: It is easy to generate documentation for common projects together
  • Linkability: Link between experiments and protocols, link to external resources, link to analysis code versions, link to data sets 
  • Organization: Keeping the group's research documentation in one common place helps with organizing things in a logical way
  • Community-building: An ELN-Wiki space develops beyond simple lab notebooks into an information hub for the research group.

Please take note: The ELN-Wiki is not suitable for the storage of personal or health-related data. 

ELN Support and Training

Our experience shows that the successful adoption of an ELN-Wiki is greatly influenced by the research group receiving a well-founded introduction into the conceptual and technical aspects of documenting their research in the wiki. 

We provide an introductory workshop program that we use to discover the group's specific requirements and at the same time provide the group members with the essential skills for an efficient start into the ELN-Wiki. For more information, see Teaching & Courses