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The Chemicals Database

What is this?

Overview

The Chemicals Database is a simple yet effective approach to track a stock of products. It provides a "catalogue" that is accessible from any workplace over Intranet (and, if configures accordingly, Internet).

Although the concept described here deals in particular with chemicals in a laboratory, it can easily be adapted to other "items".

Main Screen Search Screen Query storage locations

The Problem

The aim of this project was to simplify access to the stock of chemicals used in the author's former workgroup. Although located at the same site and belonging to the same administrative unit, these laboratories were spread across several buildings. If someone needed a certain chemical that was stored in another laboratory, finding it sometimes turned resembled the search for the (in)famous needle in a haystack: It required that the person in the other laboratory was available, and that this person knew their stock of chemicals and the location of the individual products by heart.

A first approach to solve this problem was developed in Microsoft Access, which uses a proprietary data format and requires the installation and maintenance of runtime modules on the individual computers - incompatible with a modern laboratory!

We wanted retrieval of information in a convenient manner - that is, from any workplace and at any time - while ensuring safe, restricted access to the data. In addition, it was important to find a solution which would not rely on a proprietary solution but that was open for future extensions and modifications.

The Solution

To resolve these problems, we set up a central database, holding all information about the chemicals and similar products in our laboratories. The application was developed based on the Analyses Database [1] and implemented at remarkably low cost (e.g. no license fees) in short time, using standard off-the-shelf computer equipment. The system went from test phase to production in less than one week and is essentially maintenance-free; the installation at the author's (former) workplace is operational since 2002.

The database is set up using freely accessible tools such as the MySQL database engine, the apache web server in connection with the PHP scripting language, and the Linux operating system.

To ensure appropriate user-friendliness, the application is accessible from any workplace via Intranet while still ensuring safe, restricted access (login and password). The code generated is conform to publicly available standards and does not use any browser-specific code, so the application is accessible with any browser and on any platform.

In addition, this solution does not rely on a proprietary code but employs publicly recognised standard formats and protocols. It is freely available under the terms and conditions of the GNU Public License (GPL), thus being open for extensions and custom modifications.

Features

Principle

Upon arrival in the facility, each product is given a code that specifies its storage location and is immediately entered by the individual users into (and tracked by) a MySQL database. This database is, in turn, accessible from any workplace on Intranet. This contributes to improve efficiency of laboratory work and saves cost, e.g. by avoiding multiple orders of identical products.

At a glance

Technical Details

System Requirements

The system uses a database and Intranet server that centrally holds the database. This server can be a standard, off-the shelf computer (even a rather slow machine) and uses standard Linux tools: A web server (preferably Apache), the MySQL database engine, and PHP scripting. The installation is described in detail in the documenation.

Status: Mature!

The software has been used in the author's (former) laboratory since 2002 and has performed flawlessly - thus I have good reasons to believe that it is in a stable state. Since the software is fully operational and has quite a lot of features, there are currrently no plans for further development.

How to get it

License

The Chemicals Database and all related software are Free Software and are published under Version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPL). You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the same terms, which ensures that its source code is free and that any derivatization, or implementation of it in other software, will also remain free.

The difference between "free software" and "freeware" is of legal importance. If you do not understand any portion of this license, please seek appropriate professional legal advice. If you do not or if - for any reason - you can not accept all of the conditions of the GPL, then you must not use nor distribute this software.

Support This Project

Download

Since early 2009, this project is hosted at sourceforge.net. To download, you have several possibilities:

Authors

The principal author is Jörg Hau.

Contributions - be it with suggestions, testing, discussions or code - came from many people, notably Sylviane Metairon, Yves Krebs and Laurent Fay. Thank you!

References

[1] J. Hau and L. Fay. Practical Approach to Archival and Retrieval of Analytical Data in the Laboratory. Analyst 126 (2001), 1194-1199. (the article is now freely available).