Making Lab Life Easier With Technology

Working in a laboratory can be stressful, and cause tension (see my post about lab post-it notes and the radio). Can new technologies help make life easier, by saving time and enabling easy sharing of work? Or is sticking with old-fashioned paper methods better? (I have already posted about how I like the idea of e-lab books)

I get really annoyed that labs are at the forefront of new discoveries, new science and THE FUTURE, but often work in an old-fashioned way with paper notes and old equipment (my computer is currently on its last legs, I am pretty sure it isn't going to survive 'the thesis').

In the lab I work in, we are pretty old-school. Order numbers and prices are found on a computer, written down on paper and then put back in a computer. Excel files and written lists are used to keep track of what comes in and where it is kept in the lab, but these are not available to update on a computer. But saying all this, in general, it seems to work well.. so why change it?

  • Time. Searching for things can take a lot of time - searches can be quickly done on a computer. Time can also be saved for writing papers and theses as all the information, if online can be accessed easily. Time that can be spent doing stuff can be wasted finding things.
  • Traceability. Paper can get lost, things logged in a database can be searched, so you can remember exactly what antibody you used 3 years later. If you have an e-lab book, maybe you can link directly to the antibody, reagents and ingredient lists from a book (again, time saving). Eventually, I also think that published papers should link back to original work (values and pictures), e-lab books would allow that to happen.
  • Sharing. Others can easily see if there is any of compound XYZ in the lab (and where it is)
  • Supervisors that don't work in the lab, can keep up to date with projects easily
BUT there are so many apps, gadgets and toys out there? How can you know what is good and what is a waste of time?

There is a big investment in time and energy when you start using a new device, app or database. Information has to be put in and people have to learn how to use it, so the benefits of it have to be good (or, it needs to be pretty) to encourage people to devote their time to it. It isn't until people actually use these things that you can judge (or read reviews) to see if they are any good or not.

I came across a system that seems to offer all the things above, LabGuru, at a conference a few weeks ago.

LabGuru offers a database for individuals, (for free) and/or labs. I had a play with the system at the conference and it seemed to cover all the questions I had. It allows you to input projects, experiments, equipment, log where you have stored things, create timetables for using equipment.. pretty much everything you do in a lab.

I'm organised, but I could be more organised and I think software like this might be useful. I have just over a month left in the lab, before I finish to start writing my thesis and I have promised myself I am going to plan out my time and experiments using LabGuru over the next few weeks and see how it goes. They do have an ipad app, that allows you to update experiments and projects as you do them, however, I am lacking an ipad so I do not know if I will be able to experience LabGuru's full potential.

Which leads me to another interesting question, I wasn't aware (as I am surrounded by ipad-less people) that people took ipads into the lab? Do you? How do you use it? Or do you just use it to play angry birds when waiting for an experiment?

I shall report back how I get on.... would be interested to know if others use apps or other methods to share information within a lab and keep organised?

(also, I have nothing to do with LabGuru, I am not being paid, or given stuff by them, I just genuinely think this)


  1. This would be awesome if our lab wasn't so het up about phones/iPads/etc coming in to the lab :(
    Our university offers software through our online ordering system and online booking system for equipment to manage certain things within the lab, but only post-docs/supervisors can access these which is annoying if you're a PhD student who needs to know if an antibody has been ordered or if you want to book time on specialist equipment as you have to ask them to book/check for you. The technicians have resorted to writing stuff on a whiteboard now for us students (old skoooool!)
    Definitely let us know how it goes with your lab, may be I can barter to get it going in my lab! I shall give it a go for planning my own work though as it sounds like it could be very useful for that! :)

  2. Heather - Great blog post and awesome picture of an old-school Apple! It's really great to see all these companies popping up focused on improving life in the lab. Everybody benefits when science moves faster. I work for a company called Quartzy (, which also focuses on improving lab efficiency. Quartzy is an online suite of lab management tools (inventory, orders, protocols and shared equipment) that is totally free for all researchers. Quartzy makes money from vendors instead of charging scientists, so you can have a group of any size on the site and not worry about how much it will cost. I know you're going to be insanely busy finishing up your experiments and writing your thesis, but if you get a moment check it out. I'd love to hear your feedback.
    - Scott P., Quartzy

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