Last Updated: 4/30/19 by Neil Spinner
If you are a scientist, engineer, student, or technician, it is likely that you are a very busy person. When you are busily working in a laboratory setting, you likely generate reams of results that need to be properly organized, archived, analyzed, and ultimately presented to your coworkers, your employer, your professor, or to individuals outside your company or organization. The measurements that you make in the laboratory probably come from a variety of instruments (balances, spectrometers, potentiostats, chromatographs, etc.), and the information is recorded in a variety of ways (notes jotted down in your lab notebook, data files stored on hard drives, hard copy printouts from printers, etc.). Keeping track of all of this information can be a difficult management task.
Figure 1. Messy Desk
Many researchers choose to maintain their data as a collection of one or more hard copy notebooks cross-indexed with a set of data files stored on their hard drive in a (hopefully) organized fashion. This is the typical approach used by a student or small research laboratory, and many researchers prefer this approach because the results are organized in a way that “makes sense to me” as an individual. Retrieving information from this type of system can still prove challenging for an individual after several months or years have passed since the data was acquired, especially if a given experiment involved multiple data files stored in a proprietary format created by a particular instrument manufacturer.
At the opposite extreme, very large organizations often choose to implement huge (and expensive) Laboratory Information Management Systems (or LIMS) and then require all instruments and employees to log experimental results directly into the LIMS database. While the organization as a whole can rest assured that all of the information ends up safe and secure within the LIMS, many individual researchers find conforming to a mandated archiving protocol to be stifling and awkward. Such LIMS systems are expensive to maintain and often not flexible enough to meet the needs of the individual researcher.
For these reasons, at Pine Research we decided to try and strike a balance between storing data in a bunch of individual files in a folder somewhere on your hard drive and the opposite extreme of keeping all the results in some type of huge database. Neither extreme seems very desirable, so we have implemented a middle path with medium-sized “data archives” as the primary method of data storage in AfterMath.