FAQ’s – The most asked Questions Answered

Some answers to the most frequently asked questions about eCAT.

01. What is eCAT?

eCAT is a flexible, online electronic lab notebook that also lets you manage your samples.

02. What’s the difference between an electronic lab notebook and a wiki?

A wiki is a website that allows users to collaboratively create and edit web pages using a web browser. Wikis have been adopted by many research labs to store and share general information like lab meeting notes and protocols. Online electronic lab notebooks, like wikis, are web-based and allow sharing of data. The big difference is that electronic lab notebooks allow you to create records with lots of different fields, unlike wikis which just give you one option – the wiki page. That means that electronic lab notebooks let you structure your research data the way you want to.

03. What does putting structure into your research data mean?

There are two aspects of putting structure in your research data. The first is the ability to create records in a whole variety of forms that capture the range of work you do, e.g. an experiment record for general purpose documenting of experiments, a ChiP antibody, and a freezer box. And eCAT’s template builderlets you create new templates with whatever set of fields you like.

Second, you can link different records together to create databases which reflect your research and your workflows.

04. What are the benefits of putting structure into your research data?

Structuring your research data has many benefits. First, the record of the research better reflects the nature of the experiments being carried out. Second, the more accurate visualization of the research record leads to better organization. Third, it is easier for the creators of the research record to find data, using fine grained search, e.g. searching for all the Procedure fields in any record containing “Elisa”. And fourth, it makes it possible for others in the lab, who weren’t involved in the data creation, to find the data later on.

05. Who is eCAT for?

Anyone who wants to document experiments and manage data and/or samples online might find eCAT useful. The largest numbers of users so far are biologists, biochemists and chemists working in universities, research hospitals, and government research institutes and regulatory agencies. Labs in fields like materials science, solid state physics, electronics and geophysics, and in biotechs and the research departments of SMEs are also using eCAT. Watch or read about how different labs are using eCAT here.

06. Can eCAT be used to manage samples?

Yes! eCAT 4.0 includes a full sample management capability. You can create and configure containers, manage and store samples, and link sample data to experimental data. For details, see here.

07. Why would I want to manage samples and experimental data together?

Lots of reasons, including:

  • Fewer lost and mislabelled samples
  • Clearer visualization of relationships between samples and experiments
  • Reduction of experimental error
  • More effective search
  • Higher quality analysis
  • Most important, it saves you time!

08. Operating systems and browsers

eCAT is compatible with Windows, OSX and Linux, and runs in Safari, Firefox, IE (8+) and Google Chrome.

09. What is the difference between the Team Hosted and Install versions?

With the Team Hosted service you get an account on a server hosted by ResearchSpace. All you have to do is sign up. We manage the server and you don’t have to worry about IT.

With the Install version eCAT is installed on your server and you have complete control over configuration. In addition, your files can be mapped to eCAT so you don’t need to upload each file separately.

10. Which version is right for us?

The Team Hosted service is usually best for labs which don’t have IT support or someone in the lab who is good with computers. The main limitation of the Team Hosted service is that you do not have the ability to link to file stores on your own system, which means that you have to upload attachments individually.

The Install version is best for labs and groups of labs (centers, institutions, research departments etc.) that want to have their data retained behind an institutional firewall, and have full IT support.

More information on different eCAT versions is available here.

11. What technical resources are required for the Install version?

  • Dual or Quad core CPU from Intel, or an AMD Athlon X2+ running at 3.0 Ghz.
  • 2 gigs of memory
  • The disk space required is dependent on the number of records likely to be created in eCAT. For a large scale system (millions of records) the system should have at least 500GB available with the capability to add more in future.
  • The following third party software:
  • Apache Tomcat 5.5 or 6
  • MySQL 5
  • Java 6

You can view more information on system specs here.

12. Can I use eCAT as an individual?

Yes! And the eCAT Personal edition is free.

13. Can I manage samples in eCAT Personal?

Yes! eCAT Personal contains eCAT’s complete sample management system.

14. Can we import data into eCAT?

You can import data from spreadsheets, Word documents and images into eCAT.

You can view more information on importing here.

15.Can we export data from eCAT?

You can export data from eCAT in a variety of ways. Inside eCAT itself many tables of data can be simply exported to XML, Excel or CSV by clicking a link at the foot of the table. If you use the Install version you can also use the standard backup tools that come with your database to export all or part of the eCAT data. Because we use standard formats this can then be read by a variety of different tools.

16.Does eCAT come preloaded with templates?

Yes! eCAT comes preloaded with a large number of notebook, sample and container templates.

17. Can we create our own templates in eCAT?

Yes, eCAT is highly configurable, and you can create your own templates.

18. How do I use eCAT to manage my images and other files?

There are many ways to manage files in eCAT. You can import directly from the web browser or you can setup a folder on your desktop to drop files into and they are then available in eCAT. When you are working with images eCAT can produce thumbnails of your data – and it even deals with uncommon scientific formats.

19. Security

Your privacy is protected by the username/password authentication and the Team Hosted version is protected by SSL. For the install version it also is possible to run e-CAT over an SSL connection encrypting all data. In additon inside eCAT itself there is a complete permissions system so you can determine exactly which user can access what data, and a full audit trail gives you a complete history of the usage of the system – great for regulatory purposes.

20. Is my data safe?

The hosted service is backed up automatically by ResearchSpace every night so you cannot lose your data.

If you are using the Install version, since eCAT stores all of its data in a database, it is simple to backup the data using the standard tools for whatever database is in use.

You can view more information on backup and restore here.

21. How do I get my data back if I move on to another system or if eCAT ceases to exist?

Data in eCAT is stored in a MYSQL database which can be exported anywhere. Individual records are stored as XML fragments so are also readable by other systems. It would therefore be possible to still view your data in some form even if eCAT had crashed and was not recoverable or ResearchSpace was dead. We do plan, however, to be around for a long time!

22. Is there a charge for support and upgrades?

Support and upgrades are included as part of the annual subscription for the Team Hosted service and Install versions. Additional details are provided in the Pricing section. Support and upgrades are free for eCAT Personal users.