Electronic -vs- Paper Based Laboratory Notebooks

A big deal has been written about the subject in the past. Starting from the paperless office and the fully pervasive environments (with Pads and Tabs and Screens) of Weiser to paper augmented systems. There have even been fully electronic systems, built by the research community, like LabScape and SmartTea, and complete paper solutions with digital pens, enhancement lenses and agregattion of different digital information sources.

My professor Jakob E. Bardram is a strong believer that the days of the paper notebook are over. I, however, still believe that the usage of tablet PCs and notebooks is so cumbersome for the laboratory work that adoption by the scientists is difficult.

I believe in a paper based system with an electronic counter part (like PRISM). This system would have to be built on top of PRISM with features like the following:
– Web ready version of the electronic notebook.
– Handwriting recognition.
– In-paper formatting and editing (via gestures).
– Electronic aids for the paper interface (like calculations and conversions in the pen on the fly).
– Picture capture of different elements.

Other desirable features are:
– Downloadable version of the electronic book at different timestamps.
– Comparison between versions.
– Protocol follow up.

Paper is a very rich input mechanism, it allows us to have free style input and we could shape it so we have the more rigid kind of input like the keyboard’s. The point is discovering tools (e.g. gestures) and adopting them.

Juan David Hincapie Ramos


2 thoughts on “Electronic -vs- Paper Based Laboratory Notebooks

  1. Hi, Juan, some commentsFeatures like the following:- Web ready version of the electronic notebook.-> PRISM already have that, we are working on a wordpress based version of it now. It's less flexible but offers a good extensible CMS and with google gears offline access to data.- Handwriting recognition.-> this is probably do-able, however the recognition needs to be interactive at some point. It is really difficult to put thresholds since most of the time, text and drawings are intertwined.- In-paper formatting and editing (via gestures).-> yep that would be interesting to explore.- Electronic aids for the paper interface (like calculations and conversions in the pen on the fly).- Picture capture of different elements.Not sure I understand what you mean?Other desirable features are:- Downloadable version of the electronic book at different timestamps.I did not implement the interface for this but PRISM versions the paper and electronic notebooks – Comparison between versions.- Protocol follow up-> This is interesting, and it can probably be explored also with virtual protocols of the MiniGrid.However this is something to design with the researchers themselves, protocols are modified as the experiments goes on and researchers do not necessarily know if the modified protocol should become the "new one" or just stay an alternative, until he knows how the experiment went and what the results look like.On this topic check out http://www.myexperiment.org/ which is related to the mygrid project.

  2. Hello Aurelien and thanks for the comments.What I mean by “picture capture of different elements” is more or less what ButterflyNet provides when the users are able to frame an area of the notebook, take a picture of an artefact and later relate the are and the picture in the digital version of the notebook. However, it’s quite an elaborated process to go and look for the camera, plug it in, take the picture, download it, transfer it, etc. But imagine that we could have a fixed area in every researchers lab bench where just by locating some artefact below it and, possibly, pressing a button, the capture is done and the relation with the current page of the labbook established, then it would be very easy and we would see thousand of pictures. Pictures of images from the different measuring devices, pictures from the samples in the tubes, pictures from drawings in scrap paper, pictures of other pictures, etc. In relation with the protocols I agree, there is never a ultimate protocol before the experiment starts and it can always vary. The more experienced the researcher is the more an initial protocol is prone to change while executing it. Let me check the page and I will come back to the topic.Regards,Juan David Hincapie Ramos

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