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Lurking in the Lab: Analysis of Data from Molecular Biology Laboratory Instruments

Author(s): Jen Ferguson

Journal: Journal of eScience Librarianship
ISSN 2161-3974

Volume: 1;
Issue: 3;
Start page: 148;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Primary research data | Data curation | Data preservation | File format | Proprietary | Teaching | Management

OBJECTIVE: This project examined primary research data files found on instruments in a molecular biology teaching laboratory. Experimental data files were analyzed in order to learn more about the types of data generated by these instruments (e.g. file formats), and to evaluate current laboratory data management practices.SETTING: This project examined experimental data files from instruments in a teaching laboratory at Brandeis University.METHODOLOGY: Experimental data files and associated metadata on instrument hard drives were captured and analyzed using Xplorer2 software. Formats were categorized as proprietary or open, and characteristics such as file naming conventions were noted. Discussions with the faculty member and lab staff guided the project scope and informed the findings.RESULTS: Files in both proprietary and open formats were found on the instrument hard drives. 62% of the experimental data files were in proprietary formats. Image files in various formats accounted for the most prevalent types of data found. Instrument users varied widely in their approaches to data management tasks such as file naming conventions.CONCLUSIONS: This study found inconsistent approaches to managing data on laboratory instruments. Prevalence of proprietary file formats is a concern with this type of data. Students express frustration in working with these data, and files in these proprietary formats could pose curation and preservation challenges in the future. Teaching labs afford an opportunity for librarians interested in learning more about primary research data and data management practices.
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