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Electronic Laboratory Notebooks, or ELNs are software or services to replace the paper lab notebooks.Lab notebooks are records of the scientific experiments conducted in a lab. The records should be self-explanatory for other people to reconstruct the experimental set-up.

Wiki ELN

The Wiki model is a very easy way to introduce electronic bookkeeping in university labs. The pages are free-form, just like a Word document. Things can be attached, shared, etc.

An open system that supports a more structured approach and is available through SyBIT is the openBIS ELN-LIMS system.


In the biotech and pharma industry electronic lab notebooks are legally binding must-have systems. Every entry has to be countersigned to stand later IP disputes. This is particularly important according to the US patent law in which priority is the date of inventions and not, as in Europe, the date of filing. The steps taken are predefined and rigid and are enforced by the electronic systems.

In university research labs, the model is very different. Normally there are no legal issues and people need the liberty to experiment freely with new methods and protocols. Therefore commercial ELNs as needed by the pharma industry are not useful at universities. Still, electronic bookkeeping is becoming more and more important, due to the increasing amount of data and complexity of experiments, as well as the increasing size of projects and collaborations.

Advantage of e-notebooks

In an ideal form, keeping track of experiments in an electronic format would permit

  • time and author stamped record entries
  • integration of, or linking to data repositories
  • parallel projects can be handled easily (i.e. separate pages on a wiki-platform for each experiment)
  • cut and paste of experimental designs
  • option choices via pop-up menus linked to protocol libraries
  • printing or exporting of data
  • automatic indexing and table of content
  • electronic search functions
  • easier sharing and publication of data
  • collaboration

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  1. What is a LIMS System?

  2. Unknown User (

    LIMS is in some places the short form for laboratory information management systems.