The semantic smart laboratory: a system for supporting the chemical eScientist†
One goal of eScience is to enable the end-to-end publication of experiments and results. In the Combechem project we have developed an innovative human-centred system which captures the process of a chemistry experiment from plan to execution. The system comprises an electronic lab book replacement, which has been successfully trialled in a synthetic organic chemistry laboratory, and a flexible back-end storage system. Working closely with the users, we found that a light touch and a high degree of flexibility was required in the user interface. In this paper, we concentrate on the representation and storage of human-scale experiment metadata, introducing an ontology to describe the record of an experiment, and a storage system for the data from our lab book software. Just as the interfaces need to be flexible to cope with whatever a chemist wishes to record, so the back end solutions need to be similarly flexible to store any metadata that may be created. The storage system is based on Semantic Web technologies, such as RDF, and Web Services. It gives a much higher degree of flexibility to the type of metadata it can store, compared to the use of rigid relational databases.