Labii electronic lab notebook (ELN) and laboratory information management system (LIMS)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Extend the usability of your Labii ELN via widgets

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Oftentimes, when doing demos for prospective customers of our Labii ELN we get the question,”What is a widget?” This scenario is common when computer scientists meet research scientists in the lab.  This article will demonstrate the basics of widgets and why Labii implements widgets to Electronic Lab Notebooks.

So What the heck is a widget?

Widgets: They’re those little doo-dads you see on websites, often in the sidebar, that perform one simple function and don’t take up much room while they’re doing it.

A more textbook definition: “A widget is a stand-alone application that can be embedded into third party sites by any user on a page where they have rights of authorship (e.g. a webpage, blog, or profile on a social media site).”

Some common examples of widgets:

Twitter widget: A Twitter widget displays usually 3-5 of your most recent tweets, and also provides a link to your Twitter profile so people can easily follow you. The widget pulls information from your Twitter account and updates the feed to the widget in real time.

Music Player: You’ve probably seen a lot of these on musicians’ pages. Music-playing widgets come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve at least one function: letting people listen to songs.

Calendar: There are a wide variety of calendar widgets out there, but the idea is the same: let people know about your upcoming shows and events.

Why Labii ELN & LIMS uses widgets?

Widgets are widely applied to the platform when 1) in need of extending the functionality, and 2) to meet the specific requirement of each user. The Apple Store is a great example. With these apps, the gamers can play their favorite games, and the artists can create their own music. Believe it or not, the platform of ELN & LIMS meets the above two conditions and applies the concept of widgets.

However, all the existing ELN and LIMS solutions are fixed. The vendors describe the set of features of their product and present it to their customers. When canvassing for ELNs, most researchers go through a series of demos from multiple vendors before arriving to an ELN that meets their current needs.  Once a commitment has been made, customers are oftentimes left in the dark when it comes to asking for special features. Customers can’t seem to do anything about getting a special feature when it’s absolutely required.  The sheer diversity of interests, workflows and preferences within the research community calls out the need for widgets in Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) and Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Labii is the first ELN vendor that has identified such a problem and has come up with the solution using widgets to make it the first REAL cross-disciplinary ELN. Users can select and install widgets to meet their requirements.

What are the widgets in Labii ELN & LIMS?

The widgets at Labii provide infinite extensibility of a single record. A record at Labii can be an experiment note (known as ELN), a reagent, a tube, a sample, a protocol, a location or a file. A Signature widget can be added to an experiment note or a cell line record. A file widget can insert the instructions into an equipment record, et.al.

Labii widgets also meet the requirement of the different research areas. For example, scientists specializing in chemistry can insert a molecular structure into their experiment notes, while scientists specializing in biology can insert a PCR reaction into their experiment notes.

Labii will include widgets to do bioinformatics data analysis and statistical data analysis. With the concept of widgets, we hope to optimize the way scientists document and manage research data, and revolutionize the approach to data analysis.

Draft by Yonggan Wu
Proofread by Matthew Manalac


Friday, January 19, 2018

3 Reasons an ELN & LIMS is difficult to meet the diversity of researchers' interests, requirements and preferences

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On July/August 2017, a group of researchers from University of Cambridge (life sciences),  coordinated a trial of  ELN products to explore the possibility of deployment or recommendation of a product for use at campus, school or departmental levels. They conclude that, in Cambridge at least, it would be inappropriate to prescribe a single product for use at Campus, College, Department or Research Group levels, because of the sheer diversity of interests, workflows and preferences within the research community. As a result, they have created a web page (http://www.gurdon.cam.ac.uk/institute-life/computing/elnguidance) with some guidance notes for prospective users and listed Labii ELN & LIMS, plus other ELN vendors.


We at Labii, as the vendor of ELN and LIMS, do have a similar impression after talking to hundreds of customers. We have always been asked with questions like can you do this, or can you do that? We are trying our best to meet our customer's requirements, but still, it is not possible to develop an ELN that makes everyone happy. The solutions that Labii provides, and I am sure the other ELN vendors provide as well, is focused on the features that has been mostly required.


What makes it so hard to meet the diversity of researchers' interests, requirements and preferences?

1. Different research groups produce different types of data.

Different research groups usually focus on different research areas and therefore, they need different data to demonstrate their results and to support their hypothesis. Even for those groups that are working in the similar area, the type of data they generated is different because of different methods they applied.  It is common for most of the biotech researchers to store the samples, the reagents, and most of these modules already available in the ELN products like Labii. However, the samples and reagents are just a small portion of data researchers are trying to track. They might need to store the plasmids and cell lines as well. Or in some other labs, researchers need to store the proteins. It is clearly not feasible to purchase a specific LIMS for each type of data.

2. Different type of data requires different columns.

Each type of data requires many specific attributes. For example, reagent data requires vendors, prices, volume, concentrations, et.al; protein data requires molecular weight, sequences, et.al. In LIMS, all these data stored as structured data in SQL database, with specific headers. Each type of data is created as one table in a database. It is technically impossible to efficiently put two different type of data, with all different headers in one table.

Even within the same type of data, the attributions are often different. One record might have a metadata that none of the other records would have. Most of the time, the researchers themselves have no idea what other attributes might come.

Diversity and the unknown of data attribution is the second reason which hinders the creation of universal ELN & LIMS.

3. Specific requirement of different records.

Besides the above two issues, one other problem is the specific requirement of different records. Specifically, an equipment record needs to attach an instruction document, an experiment notebook needs signatures, a reagent requires the log of usage, et.al. The requirement of such specific functionalities is still growing.

How can we store the diversity of data on one platform and meet all different requirements?

In 2017, Labii has started working on resolving such issues, creating an ELN & LIMS that is powerful yet also flexible. We created solutions for each of above problems: We have created modules to enable users from an organization to customize what kind of data they want to store and what terms they prefer. We also make it possible to extend customizable columns with specific data type requirements. Also, we provide widgets to extend the functionalities of each record.


All of these awesome updates and solutions will be available in our coming new version: Labii ELN & LIMS 3.0