eCAT Personal case studies

Case studies from Personal users of the electronic lab notebook eCAT

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Mark Hughes, Edinburgh Clinical Academic Training PhD student at the University of Edinburgh

Posted by Rory on February 14th, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

What is the focus of your PhD?

Enhanced understanding of neuronal networks is fundamental to comprehending how seemingly autonomous neurons and glia perform in unison to direct behaviour. Current understanding of this aspect of CNS function is in its infancy, profoundly limiting our ability to treat neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. My project involves development of a novel cell-patterning technology (using deposition and photolithographic patterning of parylene-C on SiO2) to guide adhesion of neuronal cell types along predetermined pathways. In parallel, I am developing techniques enabling stimulation and recording from patterned networks.

Why did you want to do a ‘paperless’ PhD?

The potential exists to do almost everything electronically so why complicate matters with paper?

How were you introduced to eCAT?

One of my supervisors suggested using eCAT from the outset of my PhD.

What do you use eCAT for?

I use eCAT as place to articulate thoughts (e.g. experimental design, planning a supervisor meeting) and as a place to summarise (and sometimes store) findings and important data.

How does eCAT help you?

eCAT encourages me to work systematically and is a reliable place to store information. As my PhD goes on, being able to interrogate previous work in the eCAT framework will be very helpful.


You can watch Mark’s presentation, “eCAT for a 1st year PhD student“, here.

Andreas Johansson, Microbiological Laboratory, Campus Helsingborg, Lund University

Posted by Rory on June 30th, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

“I chose eCAT because it’s really easy to get started with and use.  With eCAT it’s actually fun to take notes!”

About  Andreas’ work

“We are mainly working with lactic acid bacteria and we try and isolate it from the common honeybee.  We do a lot of common lab experiments and we also do a lot of outdoor experiments.  We also work with a lot of groups around the world.


The most important challenge was inconsistent or messy notes.   Another big thing is missing protocols.  They are all over the place.  You might have one tacked to the wall, others in a binder, and at the time you need it someone has borrowed the binder or you can’t find it.  Some things are in your head and some things are in the lab notebook.  Before there were experiments in three different lab notebooks and another one belonged to one of my colleagues.


I use eCAT for everything in the laboratory when I need to make a note of anything.  I use it for my experiments and my protocols.  But I also use it for things I didn’t use it for before I had an electronic lab notebook.  I use it for digital photos, so protein gels, screenshots of my HPC runs, screenshots of the small things I see during my experiment.  Before I would have just made a small note about it, now I have a photo of it.  And I also add time stamps during an experiment so I can easily see at what point I did a certain thing.


The main result is very very large quality improvements.  It also brings structure to your experiments automatically.  Since you are working with project folders you have your own experiments, and you also add protocols, and you add the data and you add whatever electronic stuff you get during the experiments to that folder.  So everything gets sorted by date and time.  It’s much more structure, automatically.

Now when you’ve done an experiment and you want to share it with a colleague, it’s much easier.  It’s structured from the beginning and it looks good.  You can easily print it, or print it electronically and send it to colleagues by email.  And for me it’s actually fun to take notes nowadays!  I take notes on everything just because it looks good in eCAT.  Nowadays the first thing I do is to start a new experiment in eCAT, even before I start the small preparatory things.

Another big thing is that I am able to access my data from outside the laboratory. I’ts completely web-based so you don’t need to install any software on your computer.  This also means that as long as you have access to a browser you can access eCAT.  It doesn’t matter if you are on Linux or Apple or a Windows system.  That’s really important for the future.

The main reason I chose eCAT is because its really easy to get started with and use.  If something is hard to get started with and easy to use a lot of people will just have a look at it and never get around to starting the first experiment.  eCAT is easy to use; it also means I can ask my colleagues to use it as well.

It’s also easily configurable and its easy to customize your experiments.  You can make your experiments and your protocols look whatever way you want them to.”

Matthew Nicotra, Research Instructer, Starzl Transplant Center, University of PIttsburgh Medical Center

Posted by Rory on June 30th, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

About Matt and his work

“We do transplant immunology using mouse models and comparative immunology using an inverabrate model for hista compatability and animals related to jelly fish and sea anenomes.


Before using eCAT I would keep my data for experiments in various places.  I had my paper notebook at the bench with written notes and gel images and other pieces of data — printouts taped in various places.  And then on my computer I’d have folders for every experiment with Excel spreadsheet and data files and digital images and other data.”  It was really a challenge to go back a month later or so and try to remember how all those pieces of data related to each other.  So I’d open a folder and try to figure out which Excel spreadsheet had the data I wanted, where exactly did that image come from and when did I take it.


Using eCAT has helped with keeping all that stuff organized because I can have one page with all my notes on an experiment.  Imported into that are  my digital images.  I can link to Excel spreadsheets, I can link to other experiments, I can link to data files, and it’s all right there.  I don’t have to speand any time figuring out where anything is. “I use eCAT five to six times a day if not more to upload data images and keep track of my experiments, write notes,and  plan experiments for the future.


The thing I like best about eCAT is its very simple to use.  I looked at some other electronic lab notebooks and they were complicated or overly designed.  eCAT has a very simple interface.  Its very flexible so I can just go in and immediately start writing my lab notebook the way I used to with a paper lab notebook.

If I want to I can make templates for different types of experiments, like PCR experiments, flow cytometry data, those sorts of things.

It’s simple, I don’t have to spend any time figuring it out.  And I can get to it from anywhere.  So if I’m home or in the lab or somewhere else I can get to my data at anytime.

Perhaps the most important thing is it’s on the web.  I don’t have to spend any time doing IT support.  They update it when they come out withnew updates to the software.  And its backed up, so I don’t have to worry about data disappearing or, heaven forbid, there is a fire in our lab.”