The Paper Laboratory Notebook: Chemistry's Most Ancient Data Tomb

Derek Lowe's In the Pipeline hosts an interesting discussion on Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs). The wasteful process of entombing valuable scientific data often begins with the paper lab notebook, so the subject of ELNs should be of great interest to anyone involved in creating, using, or reprocessing chemical information.

Why do paper notebooks continue to persist in chemistry?

The issue is complex, but in my view stems from the lack of a truly usable and affordable tool. Although the term "tool" may suggest software, it actually involves a much more complex beast consisting of hardware, software, an ergonomic hardware/software user interface, and a computer network. In chemistry, the problem is compounded by the centrality of chemical structures and the inability of most generic ELN products to capture or use them.

Given these constraints, and the costs associated with creating and marketing general-purpose products designed to work within them, it's not surprising that many organizations decide to roll their own ELN. And it's even less surprising that many others decide sticking with paper is a better option - at least for now.