Where sample management meets electronic lab notebook



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Coming in 2011: an integrated system for managing samples and experimental data

Posted by Rory on December 31st, 2010 @ 11:20 am

Happy New Year!

I hope 2011 proves to be a good year for you.  2011 is going to be a very big year for eCAT because in the spring we will be launching version 4.0, which will integrate sample management with eCAT’s existing notebook capabilities.  Here’s a sneak preview.

eCAT 4.0:  a system for managing samples and experimental data together

eCAT 4.0 will have a fully fledged sample management system, including

  • Storage of all sample information, aliquot numbers, dates, web links and images
  • Graphic display of containers with samples
  • Naming containers
  • Assigning roles – who can do what with which categories of samples
  • Setting alerts
  • Generating reports
  • Support for barcoding

And this sample management system will be  integrated with eCAT’s existing notebook capabilities, which include

  • Creating and importing research data
  • Putting structure into research data
  • Controlled sharing of data between individuals and groups
  • A messaging system

What does ‘integration’ mean?

Integration means  the sample management side of eCAT and the notebook side of eCAT operate together as two components of a single application.  It also means you have the ability to generate links between individual  sample records and individual notebook records.  For example, the sample management section of eCAT gives you a visual representation of where each of a set of aliquots is stored on a shelf in a container in a freezer, and the record for each aliquot contains a link to the record of the experiment in which the aliquot was used.

Why is integration a big deal?

Integration of sample data and experimental data brings lots of benefits . . .

  1. Fewer lost and mislabelled samples
  2. Clearer visualization of relationships between samples and experiments
  3. Reduction of experimental error
  4. More effective search
  5. Higher quality analysis
  6. Productivity gains

What’s coming next

In the last part of 2010 the alpha and beta versions of 4.0 were tested by existing eCAT users and labs which are new to eCAT.  Just before Christmas we incorporated their feedback into the final specs for the spring release.  Over the next couple of months I will be providing regular updates on development in the run up to the release.  I will also be blogging about some of the fascinating feedback and suggestions we got from testers, and I’ll go into more detail about what 4.0 is going to look like — including screenshots! — and what you will be able to do with it.

Stay tuned!

How to use experiment templates and other templates in an electronic lab notebook

Posted by Rory on December 15th, 2010 @ 9:56 am

Standard templates

eCAT has two kinds of templates.  First, there are about  50 standard templates (called classes) that come pre-loaded in eCAT.  Here are a couple of examples.  First, an experiment:

The experiment template is pretty straightforward.  It consists of seven text fields — method, objective, procedure, etc.

Here is another example, a freezer box this time.

This one gives you an idea of the range of fields you can have in eCAT, including text but here also string, barcode and reference.  You can also have lots of other kinds of fields, such as number, time, text box, etc.

Example Templates

eCAT also has example templates.  These are standard templates which have been filled in.   Here is part of the filled in experiment template

Some of the fields have been filled in with text, and a table has been created or inserted into one of the fields.

And here is the filled in freezer box template:

As with the experiment template, the fields have been filled in.

Creating your own templates

eCAT makes it easy to create your own templates.  You can do that by modifying an existing template, or by creating one from scratch with eCAT”s template builder — anyone can do it, no need for IT expertise!

Using templates

eCAT also makes it easy to use templates, both those that come preloaded in the system and those you create.  From the dashboard, select ‘Create New’, and then ‘Use Template’, as shown below

You will be taken to the following page which shows the templates in eCAT.

Click ‘Preview’ on the template you want, and the template will appear.  Then click ‘Copy Template’ at the top of the template and a new copy of the template will be created for you to work with.

The 4 most requested features in the electronic lab notebook eCAT

Posted by Rory on December 6th, 2010 @ 9:14 am

Usually I write about what’s in eCAT and what you can do with eCAT.  Today I’m going to highlight things that are not — yet — in eCAT.  Here are the four most requested features.

Export to PDF

More convenient export of records is important for a couple of reasons.  First, you may want to save a copy of a record, or multiple records, in a form that is easy to reproduce and/or show to others.  Second, easier export of records provides a feeling of security that you can always get your data out of eCAT.

PDF import

Scientists make extensive use of PDFs, so it’s not surprising that the ability to import PDFs into eCAT is a frequently requested feature.

Import as a database

eCAT’s ability to import spreadsheets as spreadsheets is very popular.  But it would also be useful lto be able to import data from a spreadsheet in tabular form, i.e. using a CSV importer.

Image annotation

A large percentage of researchers in biology and medicine make extensive use of images in their research.  The ability to annotate those images is essential to them, so they need this feature in an electronic lab notebook.

A short post this time but hopefully a useful one.  Thanks for the feedback!  All four of these features will be in the spring 2011 release.