As chemists, we rely on our lab notebooks for quite a number of things. They are how we keep track of our own results, how other people subsequently repeat things, and, perhaps most importantly, how we organize thoughts and results for later analysis. The number of times I’ve made key advances in research by a timely re-reading of an old notebook has me convinced that proper organization and research efficiency have a direct correlation. Moreover, having a reliable way of making sure those results last as long as possible–ideally forever–is important. A loss of research documents to a “lab fire” or “lab flood” is inexcusable in the modern age.
Speaking of the modern age, since the day I first started doing lab work, I have sought to find a good electronic lab notebook (eLN) solution. When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, we had an eLN that was alright–not great, but alright. I assume that, since then, that software has improved (I would love some feedback from anyone who has experience with a modern pharma eLN), but what certainly hasn’t is the price: the average eLN either costs enormous amounts of money or is mostly useless in terms of its feature set. As a result, the barrier to trying a given piece of software is staggeringly high; in fact, usually the less trouble or expense you have to go through to try out an eLN, the lower the odds are that you’ll actually like it enough to use it. Most of the biggest offenses in “useful” lab notebooks come down to a lack of features (glorified text editor versus a scientific data editor), lack of integration with experimentation (how does this software fit into my work flow? Is it fundamentally as easy to use in the lab as a paper notebook?), and a lack of back-up and sharing features (I need my data to be safe, and ideally I should be able to send it to my coworkers). Honestly, the best solution I had for a long time was an Excel document that I would keep in a Dropbox folder, but maintaining that became too cumbersome after a short while.
With all of this in mind, I was intrigued to see that Mekentosj was advertising a new eLN-type software called Findings. Mekentosj is a company that I have a huge amount of respect for; they’re responsible for Papers, the software that revolutionized how I read and keep track of the literature, so I really looked forward to seeing if they could solve my eLN problem, too. I’ve spent the past month using Findings as my primary lab notebook in an effort to evaluate it as an eLN option and I’d like to share with you my… findings. If you’re short on time, suffice it to say that I thoroughly like what I see and look forward to where they take the software in the future.