The Laboratory Notebook

As you begin your undergraduate research project, you should document everything that you do in writing in a lab notebook. As a general rule, you can use any permanently bound book containing sequentially numbered pages for this purpose. Ideally, a notebook that is labeled "laboratory notebook" is preferable as it likely has been designed for this purpose. If you decide to use another kind of book for this purpose, make sure that the paper is acid-free and that the notebook looks well constructed (cover, binding, etc.). Since this notebook normally remains the property of the laboratory and/or institution at which you are working, it is best to ask your advisor for a laboratory notebook and to use whatever notebook you are given for this purpose.

The Purpose of a Laboratory Notebook

A real time record of what was done at what specific point in time on a project for the individuals and/or organizations that may have funded the research, for your advisor and you to facilitate your efforts in publishing and/or patenting your work. A good record gives confidence in the reproducibility of your work, aids others in building on your research.

What to Record in a Laboratory Notebook

What should you record in a laboratory notebook? Everything that is directly relevant to your work. Your laboratory notebook should provide literature citations for any relevant research and/or protocols that you follow in your work. Your notebook should provide a detailed record of exactly what you do in the laboratory in order to obtain your experimental results. The record should be as detailed as possible. If you did not know how to do something then assume that the reader of your notebook will also not know how to do it. You should include information on all the reagents, equipment and instrumentation that you use. For instrumentation and equipment: What model? What make? Where are they located? For reagents: What supplier/manufacturer? What level purity? What lot number? Where is the supplier/manufacturer located? Your notebook should also contain all of your experimental results where practical and if impractical you should include a drawing or photograph that shows the critical elements/characteristics. If you use some computer program to process and/or analyze your data, you should explain exactly how the data were processed. If your data are in electronic format, you should provide the names of all the data files and identify where the data are stored in the laboratory. Bottom-line: When in doubt, write it out!

Format for a Laboratory Notebook

Be sure to consult your research advisor to determine what policies he/she may require in terms of notebook format. In general, there is no set format one must follow. As a general rule, it is a good idea to set aside several pages at the start of the notebook for use as a table of contents. This will help you and others find things in the notebook quickly later. A brief (10 word) description of the experiment, date - including year, and the page numbers on which the experiment is described constitute a useful table of contents entry.

Each entry should begin on a new page of the notebook. A descriptive title should appear at the top of the page together with the data on which the work is being done (be sure to include the year). Note that exactly the same information should appear in your table of contents at the front of your notebook. Get in the habit of identifying each day's work in your table of contents the day you are doing the actual work. It only takes a second and will make your notebook that much more valuable both to you and future students in being able to locate past experiments and results.

Each page of your notebook should ideally contain one day's work. If you need more than one page to record a day's worth of work then do so. However, if you have empty space at the bottom of a page do not begin a new day's work there. Rather get in the habit of drawing a single diagonal line through the empty space and then begin the next day's work on a fresh page.

If you believe that your work will result in a patent, then it is useful to make sure that someone else (your advisor or a colleague in the laboratory) "witnesses" your work. This means that they read through each day's work and then initial and date that page. Your witness need not be an expert in your field of research. Their role is simply to acknowledge that the work you have described was written into the official record on those pages of your laboratory notebook on the date indicated.

Ultimately, if you want your work to become part of the archival primary literature as a peer-reviewed publication, you will need to be able to describe exactly the materials (source and quality), instrumentation (make and model), procedures, experimental conditions, instrumental parameters, and data processing parameters were used to acquire your experimental results. This information is usually summarized in the "Experimental" or "Research Methods" section of a technical paper. If you are planning on writing a thesis, you will need the information for the "Experimental" chapter. For this reason you should get in the habit of writing everything in your laboratory notebook. Ideally, you should record this information as you go along where it is relevant to each day's work. However, if you use the same reagents or instruments over and over again you might dedicate a page near the back of your notebook specifically for this purpose.

References

Articles on The Laboratory Notebook

Do's and Don'ts

  • The lab notebook is not your personal property and should never be removed from the laboratory. Laboratory notebooks that relate to inventions that have been patented must be retained as evidence by the inventor and/or assignee for the life of the patent plus six years.
  • Write your full name (first and last), the title of your research project, contact information (current local address, e-mail and phone number where you can be reached) and the date you began this notebook on the cover
  • Do use ball point pens using blue or black permanent ink. Do not use pencils or water soluble inks to ensure that your entries are permanent, cannot be erased or smeared.
  • Be honest. All procedures and experimental data whether you regard them as "good" or "bad" at the time should be recorded in the lab notebook.
  • Do sign and date each page of your notebook. Be sure to include the year when you date entries.
  • Don't write anything on slips of paper, paper towels, etc. with the intent of later copying this information into your notebook. First, that time will never arrive. Secondly, later you will forget key details that should have been recorded in your notebook at the time the experiment was performed.
  • Don't worry about making it "perfect" - your handwriting, etc.
  • Don't leave blank spaces. If you have room left over on a page after recording an experiment, draw a single diagonal line through the remaining space.
  • Don't obliterate or modify entries after the fact. If you make a mistake simply put a single line through the mistake, initial and date it, and write the correct information next to the mistake.
  • Never remove any pages from the notebook
  • Don't use personally defined abbreviations or acronyms. If you want to use abbreviations or acronyms, you should define these somewhere in the notebook - the front or back inside covers of your notebook and/or the last few pages of your notebook could be used for this purpose.

Sample Notebook

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Title Date Page #

Dialysis of cytochrome c into methanol 11/8/08 4

Dialysis of cytochrome c into acetonitrile 11/8/08 5

Dialysis of cytochrome c into methanol and electrochemistry 11/10/08 6

Dialysis of cytochrome c into methanol 11/16/08 7-8

UV-vis characterization of cytochrome c in methanol 11/25/08 9-10

Direct electrochemistry of cytochrome c at Gold in methanol 12/2/08 11

Purification of Cytochrome c 12/6/08 20-25

Preparation of 0.076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0 12/6/08 20

Sample Notebook Page

Purification of Cytochrome c (cyt c) PAM 10/17/08

Primary reference: Brautigan, D.L.; Ferguson-Miller, S.; Margoliash, E. Methods in Enzymology 1978, volume 53D, pp 131-132.

A. Preparation of 0.076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0

Primary reference: Perrin, D.D.; Dempsey, B. Buffers for pH and Metal Ion Control. Chapman and Hall: New York, 1974; p. 138.

B. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M Na2HPO4

Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 141.96 g/mole = 5.324 g needed

I weighed 5.3240 g Na2HPO4 and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added distilled (DI) H2O to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.

C. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M H2NaPO4

Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 130.99 g/mole = 5.175 g needed

I weighed 5.1750 g H2NaHPO4.H2O and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added DI H2O to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.

D. Preparation of 500 mL of 0. 076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0

I combined 97.5 mL of 0.15 M NaH2PO4 (part A) and 152.5 mL of 0.15 M H2NaPO4 (part B) in a 300 mL beaker and measured the pH. The pH was 6.96 so I transferred the solution to a 500 mL volumetric flask which I then filled to the mark with DI H2O. The pH was 6.99. I stored the buffer in the cold room.

Useful Notebook Checklist

is permanently bound?

has consecutively numbered pages?

has a cover that identifies the project, investigator (you), and the period of work (MMDDYR - MMDDYR)?

has a table of contents identifying the experiments performed, the relevant pages, and dates of work?

has legible entries?

possibly contains errors/mistakes, which have been crossed out, initialed, and dated?

has each dated entry begin on a new page?

uses a diagonal line to mark empty space?

contains an accurate record of what I have done?

contains a complete record of what I have done (I could reproduce the results by following the procedures as written in the notebook?)

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Interactive Notebook Quiz

Hover over blue text to see description

Purification of Cytochrome A descriptive title should appear at the top of each page of the notebook that summarizes the work that appears on that page.
c (cyt c) It is best not to use abbreviations. However, if you want to use an abbreviation you need to define it somewhere in your laboratory notebook. You can define acronyms on the page of the notebook where you intend to use them. However, if you intend to use the acronym on several pages, it is best to set up a page in the front or back of your notebook for this purpose.
PAM 10/17/08 Each notebook page should be dated. The date should include the month, day and year that the work was done and the initials of the person who performed this work.

Primary reference: Brautigan, D.L.; Ferguson-Miller, S.; Margoliash, E. Methods in Enzymology 1978, volume 53D, pp 131-132. If there are useful literature references that describe the procedures you are following; the full literature citations should be provided. The complete procedure does not need to be described, but you should describe any deviations you make from the literature protocols you are claiming to use.

A. Preparation of 0.076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0 An entry with an appropriate descriptive title should appear in the table of contents for each new day's work.

Primary reference: Perrin, D.D.; Dempsey, B. Buffers for pH and Metal Ion Control. Chapman and Hall: New York, 1974; p. 138.If there are useful literature references that describe the procedures you are following; the full literature citations should be provided. The complete procedure does not need to be described, but you should describe any deviations you make from the literature protocols you are claiming to use.

B. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M Na2HPO4

Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 141.96 g/mole = 5.324 g needed Although not necessary, it is useful to write out any calculations relevant to the work you are doing. This way if you make a mistake you can find it later. Also, later if you forget how to do the calculation, you will have an example on which to fall back. Finally, by including a sample calculation you make it easier for others to repeat and build on your work in the future.

I weighed 5.3240 g Always record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures.Na2HPO4 and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added distilledIt is best not to use abbreviations. However, if you want to use an abbreviation you need to define it somewhere in your laboratory notebook. You can define acronyms on the page of the notebook where you intend to use them. However, if you intend to use the acronym on several pages, it is best to set up a page in the front or back of your notebook for this purpose. H2O to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.

C. Preparation of 250 mL of 0. 15 M H2NaPO4

Calculation: 0.15 mol/L * 0.25 L * 130.99 g/mole = 5.175 g needed Although not necessary, it is useful to write out any calculations relevant to the work you are doing. This way if you make a mistake you can find it later. Also, later if you forget how to do the calculation, you will have an example on which to fall back. Finally, by including a sample calculation you make it easier for others to repeat and build on your work in the future.

I weighed 5.1750 g Always record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures. H2NaHPO4.H2O and transferred it quantitatively into a 250 mL volumetric flask to which I added DI H2O It is best not to use abbreviations. However, if you want to use an abbreviation you need to define it somewhere in your laboratory notebook. You can define acronyms on the page of the notebook where you intend to use them. However, if you intend to use the acronym on several pages, it is best to set up a page in the front or back of your notebook for this purpose. to the mark. I mixed the solution 20x by inversion.

D. Preparation of 500 mL of 0. 076 M Sodium Phosphate Buffer, pH 7.0

I combined 97.5 mLAlways record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures. of 0.15 M NaH2PO4 (part A) and 152.5 mL Always record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures. of 0.15 M H2NaPO4 (part B) in a 300 mL beaker and measured the pH. The pH was 6.96 Always record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures. so I transferred the solution to a 500 mL volumetric flask which I then filled to the mark with DI H2O. The pH was 6.99 Always record experimental data using the correct number of significant figures.. I stored the buffer in the cold room.