An electronic lab otebook?

Dr Engelbert Buxbaum engelbert_buxbaum at
Wed Jul 20 11:38:33 EST 2005

gerchman at Princeton.EDU wrote:

> Greeting all
> I am looking for a cheap (free?) electronic lab notebook (or something
> that can work as). It should work on both Macintosh and Windows. Any
> suggestions?

That depends very much on what you want the program to do. The notes
themself could be created with the inbuild editor (i.e. Notepad under
Windozze), which can also be used to tabulate the results for ploting
with Gnuplot. 

Openoffice may also be used, then one could link graphics into the text
of the report.

There are special spreadsheet programs for lab results like Sigma-Plot,
which can also hold texts, thus they could be used as a complete
laboratory notebook. However, Sigma-Plot is neither cheap nor
particularly stable. I also have had considerable difficulties importing
notebooks from earlier into new versions of the program, the reverse
route is impossible altogether because of changed file formats. Since
Sigma-Plot uses a proprietary, undocumented binary file format this can
easily get you stuck with unusable files (The same problem exists also
with Microsoft office). Other programs like Origin I have only briefly
looked at, without being impressed.

Also note that such makeshift electronic notebooks are not documents in
a legal sense, thus they can not be used for example to document time of
invention in the US patent process (in the US time of invention, not
time of filing for patents determines priority). The same problem would
exist in a GLP-regulated lab or in other environments were legal
documentation is required. Theoretically one could generate
cryptographic checksums of the files (with PGP) and have them
cryptographically timestamped by servers available on the internet, this
would make any later tampering with the file obvious. But to the best of
my knowledge this approach has not been tested in the legal system.

If you want something bullet-proof, you'd need a "Laboratory Information
Management System (LIMS)", but then you are talking big money.

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