Projects Underway

Design and Testing of Laboratory Instruction Management System (LIMS)

Alexander Nazarenko

Project Team

Buffalo State College


Tier One

Project Abstract:

A Laboratory Integration Management Solution (LIMS) is a software/hardware system that is used in industrial laboratories for the integration of all laboratory software and instruments, training laboratory users, quality assurance, and quality control. LIMS may also support data mining, data analysis, decision- making, and integration of E-notebooks. It covers national and international standards and Good Laboratory Practice (GLP). In this project, we propose to introduce a Laboratory Instruction Management System, thus slightly redefining the acronym “LIMS” for our purposes.

In advanced chemistry educational laboratories, ink and paper based laboratory notebooks and reports create an obvious bottleneck. These take hours of a student’s time to create; they also overload the instructor with enormous amount of reading (40-60 pages of a notebook with multiple attachments plus over 100 pages of reports per student per semester). Purchasing paper notebooks and printing supplies dramatically increases the education costs, which can exceed $100 per student on top of the price of the laboratory book. All these expenses, both time-related and financial, can be eliminated or dramatically reduced by implementation of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs).

ELNs are designed to replace traditional, paper-based methods of documentation. Students will plan and document all aspects of an experiment from execution to results; laboratory instructions will be incorporated into a notebook template and adjusted by students at the time of preparation for a new lab experiment. Sample preparations can be simplified by integrating with existing data acquisition systems to reduce clerical errors and provide the ability to search previous experimental results.

Using ELNs, students will be able to share critical information and data between small teams or workgroups, within the class and with the instructor. This will help reduce duplication of experiments and accelerate complex experiments, saving both time and money. Instructors will tightly control the access and protection of experimental results to ensure their authenticity: ELNs provide for electronic signature validation and automated time registration of data results and procedures.

The following features are crucial for our ELNs:
Dynamic Forms. These offer flexibility and ease of use in designing and managing forms and templates. ELNs simplify students’ work, enabling them to specify exactly the information they need. A broad variety of fields are available, including fields for text, numeric data, tables, and molecular structure. Dynamic forms automate repetitive work and improve the reusability of the data. They are combined with enhanced embedding of MS Word/Excel and PDF files directly in the experiment.
Templates. These will be tailored to students’ needs and set up to capture data entered from chemical instrumentation and other laboratory equipment. They can be pre-loaded with data needed during workup of experimental data and appropriate laboratory instructions. ELNs do not require any programming skills to maximize the benefits of this feature. Students and instructors can also use current spreadsheets or import application data from ChemStation or any other XML data source.
Instrument Modules provide integration to serial measurement devices such as balances, titrators and pH meters. Information is automatically incorporated into dynamic forms and can be used for calculations of final results, eliminating transcription error.

ELN allows the creation and delivery of service requests between instructors and students. Students can also send results back to instructors, in whatever format works best—images, chromatograms, tables or audio reports—and all stored and searchable via ELN.

Currently, our chemistry department employs a simple electronic system for a limited number of laboratory experiments. This includes two local area networks (LAN) connecting a dozen instruments and their associated computers. These LANs were constructed 7-9 years ago, and the hardware is now becoming obsolete. The Chemistry Department is moving into a new building in 2012-2013, and it is not feasible or desirable to transfer the LAN “as is” into the new laboratory setup. The absence of an integrated system limits instrument use in physical chemistry and analytical laboratories and instrumental chemistry lab; similar problems are present in freshmen and sophomore laboratories. Recently, we acquired a new software suite, ChemOffice Ultra 2012, which includes an ELN option. Because many of our instruments are from Agilent, Agilent OpenLAB ELN is a natural alternative. Together with the existing infrastructure, they will serve as a first step towards more comprehensive LIMS solution.

We will start ELN development with analytical chemistry classes, where digital data acquisition is natural and straightforward. The existing laboratory instructions will be modified to a PDF forma and the appropriate ELN templates will be written. We plan experiments with common background data, targets, specification and operational limits. Data capture will be streamlined through an easy-to-use ENL interface that accepts electronic data from analytical instruments, as well as word processing, spreadsheets, XML, and photo/video file formats. ELNs will allow us to facilitate collaboration within and across teams with robust data sharing throughout the lab and to accelerate data searching and retrieval.

It is essential that each student’s ELN is accessible to the instructor at any step of the laboratory work. The report creation will be automatic, therefore eliminating duplication of work for students as well as for instructors. Instructor will be able to make all the corrections/comments directly in the ELN.

Successful completion of this project should serve as a pattern for wider implementation of LIMS features in the educational laboratory environment.

Project Outcome:

A poster presentation representing the project is available here.