Keeping a Lab Notebook
You must purchase a hardbound 'composition' notebook (the bookstore has them) before you attend the first lab. Loose-leaf notebooks will not be accepted. The pages in the notebook may be graph paper, wide-ruled, college-ruled or any other type approved by your lab instructor. This lab notebook will be used to write down notes to yourself before, during and after performing your experiments.
Many scientific companies require that their employees' laboratory notebooks be dated, signed, and witnessed since notebooks can be used as evidence in a patent dispute to establish the timing of a discovery. You will not be required to have your notebooks witnessed, but we will follow good lab notebook procedures. The front cover should have your name, semester date, course name and lab section. Each page of your notebook should have a page number and date. Flow-diagrams or outlines of the work done in your experiments should be prepared in advance. (See the next paragraph for more information about flow diagrams.)Leave plenty of empty space in your lab notebook so that you can change or correct the procedures as you do the work so that what is written in the lab notebook accurately reflects what you did in lab. If you make mistakes, do NOT obliterate any mistakes; instead, strike-through once and initial and date the change. Never use "white-out" and don't ever tear out pages of your notebook. It is fine to strike-through (once!) whole pages if it is necessary to start over. You must use an indelible pen to write in your lab notebook. It would not be of much use as a legal document if it were written in pencil.
The organization of your lab notebook is somewhat flexible. Please leave a few blank pages at the front of the notebook to create and maintain a table of contents. Many students find it useful to make a schematic diagram of the procedure (called a “flow diagram”) before coming to lab of each protocol, which can be referred to while performing the experiment. It is not necessary to copy the whole procedure from the lab wiki into your notebooks (as some of you who have taken Chemistry at Wellesley may have done). Do not print out pages of the wiki and paste them into your notebook! You should, instead, read the relevant protocols in the wiki and then condense the information into a schematic or flow diagram, leaving plenty of empty space for notes, changes, and results.
Your lab notebook is the place to record information that is not in the lab wiki, such as the manufacturer, lot number and expiration dates of kits and reagents that you use in your experiments. You should always record the stock concentrations and ingredients of reagents and do the calculation of effective (final) concentration. Doing this will save you significant time when you write the Materials and Methods section for a research report on your work.
Your notebook is also the place to perform other calculations and to record all your data and observations that are important in creating your conclusions to your experimental questions. It is much more difficult to recreate what you’ve done in lab if parts of your experiments are written on scraps of paper instead of in your notebook. It is usually impossible to remember important aspects of how organisms treated in certain ways were different than the controls. Write down your impressions in detail. Since science is founded on the ability to reproduce the results of an experiment, it is vital that the details of the experiment be accurately and completely recorded.