Fullscreen mode in the Green Lab Notebook app

glnfullscreen1The Green Lab Notebook (GLN) app has a little feature coming up in the next release: a mode for full screen display of an experiment, which consists of the reaction scheme and associated quantities.

The information being shown in fullscreen is no different to what can be viewed in regular listing/editing mode, but the key distinction is that the key information is arranged on a single panel that is entirely visible without touching the device. This means that for a lab chemist about to proceed with a reaction, you can draw out a reaction scheme, fill in the expected quantities, switch to fullscreen, and then put your iThing up on the bench – preferably out of the way of anything that might splash – and keep it there as a reminder of what’s going on (i.e. how much of each material to add).

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Right now this new feature doesn’t really do anything except arrange everything on one screen, but that’s just the first step. The next obvious progression is to make it as easy as possible to enter the actual quantities used, with minimum fuss – assuming that the operator is busy in the lab, and has just weighed out a sample on the balance or pipetted a solution into the mix.

The experiment datastructure currently specialises in capturing the balanced reaction scheme and basic quantities, leaving the actual experiment procedure out for now: but fortunately describing the procedure is completely additive to the scheme & quantities, and there are some rough ideas on the cutting board for how to do that. The long term idea is to have what is currently a single page view of all the available details be extended to show each of the procedural steps, so the chemist can follow along the recipe using the app (e.g. turf solid starting material into 50 mL round bottomed flask; measure and add solvent; hook up the reflux condenser; boil for 3 hours, etc.). Along with being able to enter the amounts of material actually used (e.g. called for 3.00 g, actually added 3.02), the procedural steps could be confirmed as-is, or adjusted to reflect what actually happened (e.g. boiled for 3.5 hours instead of 3).

In the greater scheme of things, one of the reasons why the Green Lab Notebook app has not had an update for awhile is that much work has been done to achieve feature parity for the desktop analog, XMDS (for Mac OS X). As much as touchscreen devices represent an exciting frontier for all kinds of computing, the reality is that content creation still works better with a big screen and a keyboard. The objective of all of this work with chemical reactions is to bring the informatics content out of the dark ages, and that involves effort on a number of fronts, including the creation of a lot of content. Even I don’t relish the idea of drawing hundreds of chemical reactions using an iPad – but the idea of drawing a product and accessing a service to fill out all of the rest of the details by picking some options from a list – is quite reasonable. But in order to bring all this together, other pieces had/have to be built. Hence the diversion.

While the GLN app is a fully capable content creation device that runs on iPhones and iPads, the general idea is to position it as a tool that brings unique value when it is actually used at the benchtop. The planning and analysis can be done using the same tool, or it can be done elsewhere: as long as the content can be easily passed back and forth between them, there is a real opportunity to further reduce the use of pen & paper, and correspondingly increase the fraction of science that is accessible to software.

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