If technology was no barrier, what sort of mobile (or other) technologies would we want for science - either in research or even in education?This is a great question, and one that I’ve wrestled with for a while now. In my personal life, I’m a bit of a Luddite. I don’t own a smartphone (yet) and it wasn’t until earlier this year that I owned a tablet. In my professional life, I still use a pen and paper quite a bit, and it’s been a while since I’ve used an electronic notebook for work.
But if I were trying to dream up technology that would make a working scientist’s life easier, it would be a weird meld of Google Glass and a broadly integrated super-LIMS. Ideally, it would record everything I did in the laboratory, and it would keep track of every bit of chemistry I’ve ever thought about.
The Google Glass part: Do you accurately write down every single thing you did in the lab? I try to, but was that 0.459 grams of reagent, or 0.457 grams? How many minutes between the 2nd time I pulled an aliquot of that sample and the 3rd? Humans are pretty good at observing their experiments, but computers, would be far, far better. People are, most of the time, the recorder of scientific information coming out of an experiment -- perhaps it's the experiment that should be recording itself.
If there was a way to capture all of the data and keep track of it, notebooking would cease to be the drudgery of “I added reagent A, and then reagent B, and then reagent C” and be more about why you did certain things and not how. Obviously, really smart cameras would be a major part of this technology…. It could take photographs of my reactions and my TLC plates (now there's a simple something that needs to happen -- a TLC UV lamp that takes pictures and sends them to your electronic notebook!). Better yet, everything would be integrated into the laboratory of the future through…
A super-LIMS: If I am not mistaken (since I have never worked with one) a LIMS system is how laboratories that have to process a lot of samples keep track of all of their data. But why stop at a HPLC or a GC? Why not integrate all of the laboratory's instruments and inventory into said system? Then, you could link your reaction with all of the data attached (brand names, lot numbers of solvents, reagents, the water content of the solvents, the exact weights) with all the analytical data attached to the file. I know that a lot of the pharmaceutical company e-notebooks probably will integrate HPLC traces and pdfs of NMRs, etc. into files already. Wouldn’t it be great if those e-notebooks would also advise the chemist of previous literature that was relevant to the experiment, or previous experiments within the company that had been tried, or solvent/reagent combinations that might work better?*
But what if the chemist thought of something later that night? That’s where the third item comes in: the super-tablet. Instead of looking for a Post-In note or something, you could pull out your tablet, access your company’s intranet and scribble something down to yourself that day. Want to check out how your overnight run on the HPLC is doing? Check it out on your mobile device! Naturally, the super-tablet would have access to all the literature and internal documents that your company had, if you wanted to take a brief moment and browse through some relevant journal articles. (Of the three things I’ve talked about, this is the one that is most close to fruition -- I suspect most major pharma company laptops can access most internal data at home.) It would be even better if it could keep track of all the reactions that you'd ever done and all the papers you've ever read.
Readers, what is the mobile (or not) technology that you would like to see in the lab? Is there is there something that you've always wanted?