A scientific laboratory notebook is an important document. In addition to being proof that you completed an honors high school chemistry laboratory, keeping an accurate notebook is also good practice for future classes and even jobs. A properly-formatted scientific notebook can serve as a legal document. For these reasons, we need to take keeping a laboratory notebook seriously.
To get started, please read Chapter 2 Keeping a Lab Notebook (pp. 15-18) in The Home Scientist Standard/Honors Home School Chemistry Laboratory Kit CK01A Instruction Manual (from now on, let’s call it “The Home Scientist Lab Manual.”)
Note a: If the manual you downloaded doesn’t have this title or the page numbers don’t match, please let me know and I’ll help you find the right one.
Note b: For our notebooks, we are going to allow a few modifications from The Home Scientist Lab Manual guidelines, as stated below. You will find each class you take will have slightly different rules. You will need to follow those of your current instructor.
This Care and Feeding of a Lab Notebook video helps explain the steps as we will be using them.
His advice to do all the work in the laboratory notebook is good. There is no need to keep separate sheets and copy them neatly later.
The one exception is that we will not be signing and dating each page.
Instructions for Our Class:
1. The laboratory notebook must be permanently bound (not looseleaf). Those with quadrille-ruled pages are a good choice.
2. Always use ink, never pencil. For our purposes, I will allow and even encourage you to use different colors of inks. I really like how the “student” used different colors of ink in these sample laboratory notebook pages (from a college organic chem class).
3. When you make an error, simply put a single line through the words or numbers. The idea is to leave a permanent record of what you did. Never erase or use white out. Example of a notebook correction: The water was
Note: Believe it or not, many important discoveries came out of laboratory errors. For example, an herbicide was discovered when a frustrated chemist threw his beaker of chemical out the window. Later he noticed that the mix had killed the grass, which he realized was a significant discovery. If he had “neatened up” his notebook by erasing, tearing out or other removing his experiment, he might not have been able to duplicate the formula.
4. Start out by numbering all the pages in order in the upper, outer corner. That means the right pages go in the top right corner and the left pages in the top left corner.
5. Create a title page. You can put a title on the front cover, but I recommend you also create a title page on the first page inside as well.
Note: Do I need to tell you about the graduate student who accidentally put his notebook of his entire summer’s work on the roof of his car and drove for 30 miles? If your notebook is lost, it really pays to have your contact information inside!
6. Leave a few pages at the front to fill in the Table of Contents. It might look this when you complete it:
Table of Contents
Laboratory 1. Density of soft drinks pp. 1-5
Laboratory 2. The Measurement Challenge pp. 6-12
7. Whether you use the right page only or both pages of the notebook is up to you. Using only the right page came about from the idea that ink might bleed through the paper, but since most paper these days is high quality, that is less of a problem than it once was. If you have a mixed note-taking and quadrille-ruled notebook, you might want to use the left side for notes and the right side for data.
8. You will need to record the name of your lab partner(s) and indicate their contribution for each lab. I like the idea of adding their name in a different-colored ink and writing their data in that color because it makes it very clear who did what parts. Different colors are not required, however.
9. You do need to put the date of each lab with the title as you start it. You do not need to sign and date each page. If you successfully complete the course, I will date and sign off on your notebook at the end of the course.
10. Add any printouts using glue sticks, not tape or staples.
11. We will follow the format for writing the labs in the notebook as suggested by The Home Scientist Lab Manual. I will also give you specific ideas and hints with each of the labs as we go along.
Yes, I know keeping a rigorous laboratory notebook seems like a lot of work. You might be surprised, however, at how important keeping a detailed notebook as a journal of your work can be, regardless of what career you choose. For example. the famous designer Michael Bierut has filled 86 (!!) composition notebooks since 1982.
Do you have any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, send a direct e-mail or post to our Yahoo group.