The importance of a good laboratory Notebook

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Contributed by Paolo Di Mascio

A good scientist knows the importance of keeping all experimental records very well organized. Keeping a good laboratory notebook (LNB) is essential at the time of writing papers and reports, but can also save your time when repetitions are necessary some time later. In fact, this is a practice adopted in various industries where, by legislation, the laboratory procedure must be well documented.

LNBs are, also, important as legal documents to prove patents and defend your data against accusations of fraud. LNB is a Scientific Legacy in the laboratory of your Institution.

Currently, you can also keep an electronic LNB, but in those cases the creation date of the document and the authorship indication have to be very clear, otherwise it will not serve as a legal document. In US, for example, a person can use the LBN as evidence showing an earlier date of the concept of the patent.

How to start a LNB

The LNB should have a name on the cover for easy identification. Preferentially, there should be a signed record of who took each book.

On a separate cover page, you should WRITE YOUR FULL NAME and the YEAR you are starting the LNB, the NAME OF THE PROJECT, and THE E-MAIL ADDRESS WITH YOUR PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR’S NAME.

The LNB should record the procedures, reagents, DATA, etc., and thoughts that may be pass to other researchers. For this, explanation of WHY experiments were initiated, HOW they were performed, and the results.

The experimental entries, the Details of “How” and “Ethics”.

Entries: date, title, hypothesis or Goal, brief statement of purpose, background.

Protocols: calculations, reagents, equipment.

Observation: All that happens (planned or unplanned), raw experimental data, taped in information or reference to data location.

Data analysis: Processing of raw data, graphs and interpretations.

Ideas for future experiments!

Ethics: all data go in to the notebook, no pages come out of the notebook, correct mistakes, do not remove them and honesty is the best policy.

It is our scientific obligation, Science must be reproducible, the work should be reproducible faithfully by yourself and others. This will facilitate accurate reporting and publication. The NBL organizes how you do Science, formulate ideas clearly, specifying materials and methods, planning experiments well and obtaining maximum value from data.

This will protect also the intellectual property!

General aspect of the LNB

Bound notebooks, consecutive entries, no blank pages or spaces, fill in with line, use non-erasable ink pen, to delete simply strike through and write LEGIBLY (We can read and understand Leonardo’s notebooks from 500 years ago)!

As examples, see the LNBs from Leonardo da Vinci, Marie Sklodowska Curie , Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Francis Crick, Gregor Mdendel and Thomas Edison)

Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook

Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of reflections from concave mirrors. Italy, probably Florence, from 1508. [Source: British Library, Public domain]

Marie Sklodowska Curie

Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934). Impressions of America. Autograph manuscript, 11 leaves, 1921. — RBML, Meloney-Curie Papers [Source: Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University]

Charles Darwin, 1837

Charles Darwin, 1837. First Notebook on Transmutation [Source: Wikimedia,  Public domain]

Gregor Mendel Notebook

Gregor Mendel (circa 1864) [Source: Mendel Museum, apud Strong Brains]

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison (1873). [NE1691] Notebook Series — Experimental Researches: Cat. 994 Vol. 1 (1875-1876, 1877-1878) [NE1691005; TAEM 3:196] [ Source: The Thomas Edison Papers, Rutgers]

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