Digital lab books

Should I digitise my lab books?

The answer to this is almost definitely yes. Other than it taking a long time, there aren’t really any disadvantages to doing so. It would mean I had access to all my experimental settings in digital form, and I would have a built in cross-reference of the plots that are currently stuck in the lab books and also on my hard drive with the experimental notes (I already save the copies of the plots with the date but then you have to go and get the lab book to look up the date and find what sample the data was from and the experimental settings for that date).

In addition, if I decide to go completely Open Notebook, I could put the digital versions online. Although I’d need a lot of server space for this – Rob, I’m looking at you πŸ˜‰ It would also be cool to build the digital lab books into an Experimental Physics Wiki I’ve been meaning to get around to writing. I could easily navigate around previous experiments by tag too, rather than my current, somewhat prehistoric, method of ‘post-it notes’ stuck to various pages.

Having a digital backup would also put my mind somewhat to rest over the matter that if I lost my lab books I would be totally screwed. All my data analysis and experimental development information would all be lost, and you can’t plot the data without the precious settings which are meticulously noted down in the lab book everytime the experiment is run.

I’m also quite proud of my lab books as they are quite neat and pretty, and are often used to show students a ‘good example’ so it would be a shame to lose them.

So, I was trying to work out what method to use. At first I thought about scanning the books, but I think this will take too long. I have about 8 books with 100+ pages in each. I thought about photocpoying the pages (our photocopier has a function that allows you to e-mail the copy to yourself) but my current favourite is the idea of taking hi-res digital photographs of each page. If I could set up a little ‘photo-shoot’ with good lighting and camera tripod, and a stand for the books, I could probably get them done pretty fast.

I’ve also always wanted an excuse to buy a lectern. πŸ˜€ Like this one:


5 thoughts on “Digital lab books

  1. rrtucci says:

    wow! Where does that lectern live?

  2. quantummoxie says:

    Maybe, but I’d keep paper copies as backups. I keep paper backups of all my course material and, after my hard drive crashed recently, I’m going to do the same with my research papers (my notes are all on paper, obviously).

    Ironically, while I feel more comfortable having paper backups, a roughly sixty-year-old colleague of mine feels more comfortable with electronic backups. Go figure.

  3. UHV says:

    You might want to see if your library/ department has a large document scanner. They are very fast at scanning “stuff”. It just takes a picture of the item and can save it in a variety of formats. I scan all my log books now. It takes about 10 minutes to scan ~100 pages. In the book mode it scans both sides of the book and splits the image into pages. It’s super fast.

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