Ivan Vilotijević on Electronic Lab Notebooks

Ivan Vilotijević is Professor of Synthetic Organic Chemistry at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Together with his team, he is focussing on the discovery, development, and application of new reactions for synthesis of complex organic molecules. In this interview, he talks about the advantages of using an electronic lab notebook and his experience of introducing it in his research lab.

Why did you decide to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) in your research group?

A few things that an ELN allows us to do easily were important for my research team: data safety and the ease of backing up data in a digital form, the searchability and findability of data, the ease of sharing data with other members of the research team and the ease of organizing data in one place.

What advantages do you see in using an ELN compared to a paper-based lab notebook?

There are many advantages. For example, an ELN is easier to backup. Prior to using the ELN, data in electronic form were saved and backup up regularly but the experimental procedures and notes were entered into a paper-based notebook which would have to be scanned (or copied) to produce a backup. With the ELN this process is automated. Furthermore, the ELN allows for data to be better organized and easily accessible. Various useful tools are integrated into the ELN both with respect to experiment set up and data processing which saves time. The data can also be saved at various stages of processing. I struggle to find any true advantage of a paper-based notebook.

Do you have a specific example where the ELN has facilitated your work?

In addition to the advantages, I already mentioned, from which we have greatly benefited, the ELN also makes it easier for my coworkers to prepare reports and presentations.

Which ELN do you use?

We were early adopters of Chemotion ELN and started using it in 2021.

Is the use of the ELN mandatory in your research group?

In short, yes. All active members of the research group use the ELN. Research interns do still use regular paper-based notebooks as I find this experience important for their learning but as they become more integrated into the group and our research projects, they start using the ELN.

How long did it take to familiarize yourself and the group with the ELN?

As early adopter of Chemotion, we had a slightly longer period of adaptation during which a couple of group members tested the ELN. As they became familiar with all features and established standards of use for our group, other members got involved and were trained by those who already gained experience with the ELN.

What challenges do you see in implementing an ELN and what must be considered at the beginning?

Technical equipment in the lab is certainly a prerequisite to use the ELN. Researchers should carefully consider what equipment works best for their needs (for example, a computer vs. a tablet) before establishing the necessary infrastructure. Having a person responsible for the ELN, training of new group members and troubleshooting of any issues (with the help of the developers) makes the implementation much easier.

Why did you choose Chemotion ELN?

It was a simple choice. Chemotion is developed for chemists by chemists, and it fits our needs perfectly. We also had an opportunity to provide feedback and influence the development of features that are useful for our group. Furthermore, Chemotion is freely available and data safety is taken very seriously. Finally, as a part of a larger national initiative it allows us to manage our data in a FAIR way and make them useful for other researchers.

Have you already published data from the ELN or are you planning to do so?

For now, we make the data available on request, but we plan to publish data from the ELN in the future.

How widespread is the use of ELNs in your scientific discipline?

Unfortunately, not as much as I believe it should be.

Are there plans to use the ELN in the curriculum?

Absolutely! As adoption of ELNs continues, this will become a necessity. I also hope that inclusion of the ELN in practical courses will support a widespread adoption in research labs.

Thank you very much for the detailed interview, Professor Vilotijević!

This interview comes from the Competence Center for Digital Research (zedif) at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. It was first published there at [https://www.zedif.uni-jena.de/newsletter/en/2024_01/newsletter.html#ChemotionInterview_en].