ObjectiveLaboratory notebooks are at the heart of scientific research. Notebooks allow researchers to plan their projects, organize their experiments, and record their results. Notebooks are also used as a long term, legally defensible, record of research, invention, and records management. The signed and time-stamped details provided in notebooks are used as evidence needed for regulatory compliance.
An electronic version of the scientific notebook extends the capabilities of its paper counterpart by allowing scientists located across the country to share the record of ideas, data, and events of their joint experiments and research programs.
Through a multi-lab collaboration, LBNL, ORNL, and PNNL are developing a modular, extensible, electronic notebook framework and using it to produce cross-platform interoperating notebook implementations. The implementations are based on modern object oriented design and allow Web based access to a notebook. The notebook implementations by conforming to a common notebook object and communication mechanism, notebooks can interoperate and to share components for input and display of sketches, text, equations, images, graphs, and other data types, as well as tools for authentication and other services.
ApproachOur electronic notebook research covers the three basic areas listed below. All three of the labs are working together to complete the specified subtasks. Progress is being made in all three areas and documented in a shared project notebook. The accomplishments section describes which tasks are completed.
Notebook Architecture Design
Develop Compliant Notebook Implementation(s)
- Define a standard notebook object as an extensible meta-data object that contains required fields such as author, creation date/time, MIME type of the data, etc. And allows for new meta-data fields to be defined as needed.
- Specify basic functionality that a compliant notebook supports such as adding entries, retrieving a specified entry, and searching.
- Define how the base functionality can be extended through an Editor API and through extensions to notebook objects.
- Specify interoperability between different notebook implementations
Make Electronic Notebooks Available to Collaboratories
- Develop implementations based on the Common Notebook Architecture specification.
- Demonstrate interoperability between compliant implementations
- Expand the base functionality by developing input and display tools that can customize the notebook to specific collaboratory needs.
In addition we have close ties with and participate in meetings of the Collaborative Electronic Notebook Systems Consortium. CENSA's goal is to create and expand the markets for scientific laboratory software.
- Offer prototype notebooks to DOE2000 pilot projects
- Make electronic notebook software available to other collaboratories and interested individuals
- Use feedback from users to refine the notebook design and functionality
- Electronic Notebook Demonstration to Vice President Gore -- January 21, 1998
and over 20 talks/demonstrations given on our DOE2K notebook research in FY98.
- Defined Notebook Object (NOb) -- Perl and Java implementations of NObs have been written.
- Completed MIME-based Export Specification -- allows notebooks or notebook data to be exchanged between any two DOE2000 compliant notebook systems. Notebook Objects can be transferred via http, email, or as files.
- Defined an Editor API -- allows for dynamic additions of new editors to any DOE2000 compliant notebook. Users can customize their notebooks by generating new input editors and inserting them into the system.
- Increased User Base for Notebook Software -- Many collaboratories, industries, labs, and national facilities are now using our software to help support their research.
- Released Improved Notebook Software -- based on feedback from the many users and to meet the evolving specifications of the Common Notebook Architecture.
- Editor API implemented and tested -- demonstrated the use of this API through a common set of input tools for the notebook systems.
- MIME-based export components implemented -- presently undergoing testing.
- Developed proof of concept application demonstrating Digital Signature capabilities within the notebook framework.
- Demonstrated support for hands free voice control and voice translation directly to text on a notebook page.
- Developed a metadata-based, configurable user interface and shared whiteboard.
- Developed an instance of an integration mechanism allowing for the instruments and other software to talk directly to the notebook server.
- Wrote two papers on our research. Design of the DOE2000 Electronic Notebook and Electronic Notebooks for Collaborative Work.
- Co-author CENSA Electronic Records Specification v.1 document (an explanation of all the signature/security/archiving related needs of a notebook system)
Future and Ongoing ResearchWhile much progress has been made in the design and development of base notebook functionality and interoperability, much research remains to be done before electronic notebooks will be able to meet the needs of the wide user base who stand to gain from the continued improvement in this technology. Below is a list of the most critical research areas identified by users of our prototype software.
- Testing Import/Export between Notebooks -- to confirm that the interoperability design is sufficient to support all the media types and exchange types (objects, pages, chapters, etc.)
- Digital Signatures and Timestamps -- DOE2000 Standard definition for signing and timestamping notebook objects
- Fine-grain Access Privileges -- Read/Write access provided on a per page or finer level (for example in classified notebooks).
- Versioning of notebook objects -- provides a means to differentiate between two saved copies of the same notebook object.
- Collaborative Software Development -- Provide features to allow notebooks to document the development of software by a distributed group of researchers.
- Support for Public Key Certificate Authentication of Users
- Server replication/synchronization for off-line use
- Define Integration Mechanisms for third party software -- Such as commodity editors, real-time collaboration tools, problem solving environments, mathematical packages, instruments, etc.
- Expanding the set of input devices -- support for sharing and synchronization of notebook objects such as handwritten notes.
- Voice Annotation
- Provide Records Management Functionality -- including pilot tests of electronic notebooks as official laboratory records
- Incorporation of Digital Library features such as OCR to archive legacy notebooks in electronic form.
- Investigation of, and support for emerging standards -- such as XML, Web Digital Authoring and Versioning, and Open Document Management Architecture
Tool AvailabilityDOE2K notebook software is available and in use by 100's of groups around the country including collaboratories, industry, education, and medical research.
The fact that so many groups have started using our initial implementations underscores the importance and potential impact of this continued research across the entire scientific community.