The purpose of this essay is to evaluate the use of laboratory notebooks when conducting laboratory experiments through identifying its strengths and weaknesses. This essay is aimed to assess the use of my personal laboratory notebook throughout the year presenting its importance and outlining its developments.
A laboratory notebook can be defined as a collection of pages which consist of records of experiments that were undertaken or are due to be carried out. (Thomson,2007). Laboratory notebooks can be handwritten or electronic and are commonly used in the scientific environment to record sections of each experiment. In effect, the purpose of laboratory notebook is for the storage of factual information obtained from experiments (Organic Chemistry Laboratory,2011).Laboratory notebooks are also essential in the protection and publication of scientific research, particularly in the patency of work (Huntey and Hughey, 2007).
Analysis of my Laboratory Notebook:
What makes a good Laboratory Notebook?
An entry of an experiment in a laboratory notebook can consist of titles, an introduction or aim, a methodology, labelled diagrams, results and conclusions. The importance of a laboratory notebook is to ensure there is a detailed account of every experiment such as the results and conclusions obtained that will enable another person to understand and repeat the experiments (Thomson, 2007).
Another aspect of producing a good laboratory notebook is organisation of work which is legible and duplicable. Although during a lab experiment work may be disorganised, it must be understandable to the reader. Good organisation of a laboratory notebook will enable the reader to find the desired information; if mistakes occur, work should be crossed out neatly in a way that it can still be read. (Carter, 2007). Chronological order is needed to ensure easy understanding when reading through individuals pieces of work (Jones, 2011). A Laboratory notebook should contain personal details showing the property is owned; this ensures it can easily be referred to as belonging to a person or group of people.
Good features of a written experiment in my Laboratory Notebook
By writing experiments in this way, adequate knowledge is retrieved when recalling information from experiments. It has allowed me to identify the significance of each experiment and the measures taken to obtain findings from each one.
An Index Page is required in the first pages and consists of the date of the practical, the title of the experiment and the page numbers. This provides straightforward navigation when looking through the notebook and finding the necessary information. This is evident in Figure 2
Figure 2: Index Page of my Laboratory Notebook
As shown in Figure 2, it is easier to find the corresponding experiments using the titles and page numbers on the page. For example, The Biochemistry experiment on testing blood serum samples using Biuret’s Test and Micro-centrifugation was conducted on 26/01/2018 and can be found on pages 12 and 20. However, a weakness presented in this Index Page is the lack of specificity in the title needed to make it easier to find pages. For example, the method of one of the experiments will not easily be found as oppose to if it was included as part of the Index Page. On the Index page, the microbiology practical is not clearly specified in terms of what the experiment consisted of. The title is needed to give an indication of the purpose of the experiment as well as its main role in categorising individual experiments within the laboratory notebook. Further development would be to make the titles on the Index Page more specific, stating the area being discussed.
Introductions are important in providing a brief explanation to the reader on the main purpose of the experiment. (“Keeping a laboratory notebook”, N.D).Generally, the introductory section should contain a hypothesis or aim outlining the intentions of the experiment; it can also consist of background information. For example in Figure 3, details of the experiment were identified in the aim as well as how the results contribute to the central aim in diagnosing a patient. A weakness shown in this Introduction is the lack of what these results would show. For example, the Biuret’s Test will measure the absorbance of cholesterol and micro-centrifugation will give a minor indication of the concentration of cholesterol within each of the serum samples. This is needed in order to know what information can be attained from the experiments.
Background information within the introductory section provides information to the reader. As shown in Figure 4, these pre-practical answers can provide background information on the experiments as the first answer indicates the bacterium that can be found in buttermilk. The purpose of the experiment is stated in the aim as well as a short methodology indicating what results will be obtained and how the collected results can aid calculation. This is a strength of the experimental write-up. Further improvements would be writing the questions to the pre-practical answers making it easier to understand and explaining in the aim what the calculations will show.
The method involves clear explanation of the procedure of the experiment, the equipment and reagents used. The method should provide a detailed explanation of how the equipment was used and its function. A method can consist of health and safety precautions within the lab as well as drawing or diagrams of different steps. In Figure 5, the steps of the method are in chronological order with relevant information contained in each step which is a strength of using my laboratory book. The methods should be an adaptive version of the original protocol whilst still being concise; important information with any errors encountered within the experiment should be included (Hunter and Hughey,2007). When analysing this method, aspects of the method are specific such as viewing the slide at a magnification of x10 and leaving the slide to set for 5 minutes. However, an improvement is to be more precise for example in step 2, it states place some blood as oppose to 3 or 4 droplets of blood.
As part of the method, I included diagrams to illustrate ways in which a step should be conducted, which can provide a visual view of how experiments should be done. This is another advantage of my laboratory notebook as these drawings simplify complicated techniques. As shown in Figure 6, the use of streak plating is explained in an annotated diagram. This is easier to interpret with a description as the steps in the drawings can be followed to carry out the experiment correctly. This reflects the importance of using a laboratory notebook as records on how to conduct an experiment can be kept for future referencing.
A development of the method could be to include the manufacturer of each reagent or equipment as it is possible that using a different brand or version of an equipment or chemical can reduce the repeatability of the results. Furthermore, as part of the methodology, a list of required equipment and apparatus can be stated as oppose to reading through the method in search of the required equipment and reagents.
Health and Safety precautions are important when conducting laboratory experiments to ensure the safety on an individual and others. Despite following the generic health and safety regulations such as a wearing a laboratory coat and protective goggles, the chemical reagents and equipment used needs to be thoroughly analysed. This is to prevent unwanted accidents due to lack of knowledge of the equipment or reagents being used (Shield Safety Group, 2016).
This is presented in Figure 7, which displays a risk assessment of the equipment or reagents considered to be dangerous. For example, 4X-SDS polyacrylamide gel contains ?-Mercaptoethanol which is toxic and can cause skin irritation (Regulatory Affairs, 2010). A precaution would be to wear gloves or laboratory goggles. The benefits outlined in this risk assessment are equipment, associated risk and precautions are clear and the proposed precautions can be followed, reducing the risk of danger. This shows the importance of using a laboratory book as a person wishing to conduct the experiment will be aware of the risks of the experiment. An improvement of the risk assessment would be to analyse the hazards of every equipment or chemicals used as well as providing a breakdown of the chemical contents and the risk associated with each. The precautions can also include what to do in case of misuse of the equipment or chemicals such as clearing spillages.
Results and data Representation
The results and observations in the laboratory notebook are the qualitative or quantitative data collected in an experiment. The results can be recorded in the form of a paragraph, diagram, table or graph. A table should consist of headers that will aid in representing the results and the corresponding results should be recorded in the correct place of the table. As shown in Figure 8, aspects such as the characteristics and colony forming unit of Buttermilk, Camembert cheese and Mozzarella cheese are clear to identify using the headings in the table. For instance, Camembert cheese is pale yellow and at a 10¯3 dilution there are 584 organisms on the agar plate. A strength of this table is it is clear which food types correspond to each of the results. The units and significant figures are important in data representation and should be correctly used in a table. This could be by using the same units and significant figures in a vertical column of a table. This table has the same significant figures and units where required presenting a good table. A development of this would be to show a step by step calculation of colony forming unit. This can be supported by Carter .et. al. (2004) who states that all steps in calculations should be written in laboratory notebooks. This enables the values to be easily understood and if there are errors in the calculated value it is possible to refer back to the calculation process.
The importance of tables with titles is expressed when comparing my table to Figure 9. As shown in Figure 9, the values are not arranged neatly in a table and it is less clear what the values indicate, hence less information can be drawn. The values are merged with other aspects of the experiment presenting a significant weakness as the values are difficult to interpret.
For a graph, a title is essential with the axis properly labelled and the data points shown (“Keeping a laboratory notebook” ,N.D). In a scatter graph, a line of best fit should be included in order to allow easier analysis of the overall trend of the graph and any outliers within the result. Figure 10 supports this idea as it is clear which samples have higher or lower cholesterol, specifically when compared to the standard control containing the healthy concentration of cholesterol. It is evident that there are no outliers as all values lie close to the line of best fit. The purpose of a laboratory notebook in storing information is reflected as when compared to the data table of these results in Figure 1, the recording of the results in my laboratory notebook allowed the graph to be formulated in Excel.
As shown in Figure 11, the effects of Quality Factor on body fat composition is shown. The two different colours allow the different variables to be distinct from one another, making it easier to draw information from the graph. The axes are clearly labelled with the graph having an overall title. This shows good use of laboratory notebook as the data collected presents the results in a way that can allow the trend to easily be identified and comparisons to be made. The use of standard deviation for SKFA (Skinfold Analysis) and BIA (Bio-Impedance Analysis) is shown within the graph through using error bars conveying the spread of data within the sample. This analytical tool allows further analysis of the data which is an important aspect of data presentation.
Conclusions provide a detailed summary of information that can be gained from experiments, specifically the results obtained. The conclusions should relate to the aim and hypothesis of the experiment, observations made in the experiment and discuss limitations and improvements of the experiment (“Laboratory Notebook, procedure outline, prelab assignment and lab reports”, N.D.) As demonstrated in Figure 12, the graph is used to draw conclusions and restrictions within the experiment were identified. A development of writing conclusions is to discuss possible errors within testing, how it affected the results and use this to identify developments. For example, errors may have occurred when looking at the sizes of the pellet; hence an improvement would be to weigh the pellets using a weighing scale. Another improvement would involve stating whether the aim of the experiment was achieved within the practical.
Development of the use of my Laboratory Notebook throughout the Year
Through analysing the use of my laboratory notebook, particularly comparing Figure 1 to Figure 5, the first experiment to the most recent, it is noticeable that my laboratory work has improved as areas such as the results and conclusions are included. This is another importance of Laboratory notebook as work can be stored in one place making it possible to keep track of developing research. A general improvement is to improve my handwriting so it is more legible to the reader. The strengths and developments outlined in this essay will be used to enhance the use of my laboratory notebook for future purposes.