Did you know that anytime you record a piece of information, you’re preserving a tradition that is approximately 10,000 years old? One of the earliest record-keeping systems used clay tokens that date back to between 9300 and 8600 BC. Although Fermilab is fresh out of clay tokens, the laboratory does have an extensive, electronic logbook database that would make its earthen ancestors proud.
Each experiment at Fermilab has its own logbook where scientists and staff record information on a daily basis. Most of these are electronic. While there are several different software packages that can be used, the Computing Sector has developed software that is now used for 29 of these logbooks, which hold activity logs for R&D projects from programs as diverse as COUPP, the Dark Energy Camera and NOvA.
They contain information such as who worked on a specific piece of equipment, when they worked on it and whether any repairs were necessary. Every small detail that may be relevant to running the experiment is recorded in the logbooks. While this information might be considered monotonous or mundane, it is still important, said Igor Mandrichenko, head of Fermilab’s Scientific Database Applications Group, which supplies the software for these particular 29 logbooks.
“Say, for example, a scientist sees something unusual in one-year-old data at a particular time,” Mandrichenko said. “That person can go into the logbook for that experiment and see if any equipment was malfunctioning that would explain the peculiar data.”
Today, searching for information in the logbooks is relatively easy. This is because a few years ago Mandrichenko and his colleagues revamped the existing electronic logbook software. The new software, based on a relational database, is more reliable and easier to navigate, Mandrichenko said. It is also easier to maintain and support.
“The new software has much more power in organizing and searching through the information,” he said.
The logbook software allows users to input images, link to previous entries and reference URLs in their logbook entries. Users can even sign up for RSS feeds for different logbooks. In addition to scientific relevance and ease of navigation, the Web applications also make it possible to personalize each logbook—almost like one personalizes a Facebook profile. For example, the MINERvA logbook page includes an image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom.
Logbooks contain huge amounts of data on an experiment’s life. For example, the MINOS logbook, one of the oldest electronic logbooks that SCD runs, started in 2001 and contains more than 100,000 records. It continues to grow. What would the few scholars of ancient times who carefully organized a dozen-or-so clay tokens think?