Advanced Research Computing


Research Data Services Developments

Effective management of research data throughout the research lifecycle, from the planning phase, through data gathering and analysis, to the long-term curation and possible re-use of data.

Electronic Research Notebook Implementation

Research Data Repository Enhancements

Globus Data File Transfer

Research Database Scoping Project

Electronic Research Notebook Scoping Project


This project has been looking at requirements amongst researchers for a centrally-supported Electronic Research Notebook (ERN) service. We were originally referring to this as the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) Project, but have changed the emphasis to reflect that these tools can have benefits beyond traditional laboratory environments.

The project has carried out a study looking at the current state of the market, undertaken a comprehensive competitive tender, and has now settled on a vendor.

And the winner is… RSpace!

The project is now integrating RSpace with UCL’s single-sign-on system, and we hope to be able to start offering it to staff and students during the Autumn term.

We will be arranging a launch event in due course – watch this space.


Researchers in many disciplines organise their notes and document their research processes in notebooks. Traditionally, these have been paper based and, once completed, have ended up on shelves and drawers in labs and offices before, if kept at all, being archived to deep storage. These notebooks contain a vital record of the research process which in many cases is invaluable for reproducing results.

Increasingly, researchers are turning to Electronic Research Notebooks, which can not only capture traditional notes but also

  • link notes to data, code, visualizations, Office documents, and other electronic content
  • enable collaboration and sharing of notes between individuals and groups
  • may include sophisticated experimental workflow models reflecting/enforcing recognized standards and discipline-specific metadata
  • provide indelible time-stamping  and versioning

ERNs can also be integrated with other centrally-provided service, such as data storage and repository services.

By providing such functionality centrally, UCL can support and assist its researchers whilst preserving and curating vital contextual information about research. This will support research good practice by: greatly assisting research reproducibility; helping to provide a richer record of data provenance, null results, and tried but rejected research approaches; and may also help with the teaching of research skills and techniques.

Why RSpace?

The Electronic Research Notebook market has become increasingly competitive in recent years, and there were a number of good options for us to choose from. We would like to thank all of the vendors who took part in our selection process.

We settled on RSpace due to its combination of excellent functionality and match with UCL’s user requirements, its interoperability with other software and systems, and its popularity amongst researchers who helped us trial the shortlisted products.

Things that helped RSpace stand out included its focus on supporting research beyond traditional lab environments. Although all of the potential solutions we looked at were initially developed to meet the requirements of researchers working in wet-lab environments, UCL is keen to partner with a vendor that has shown the intention to broaden the scope of their product to serve research beyond the lab, which RSpace has done. Another factor was the flexibility of its API (Application Programming Interface). Whilst this may not have been the first concern of the researchers we spoke to during the project, it is important in terms of what it allows us to do in the future. Being able to write software code that interacts with the service enables us to more easily integrate it with existing and future research support infrastructure and software at UCL. It also provides the opportunity for researchers to automate aspects of the scientific process on a customized basis – such as data processing and documentation. Finally, we were impressed by the relative ease by which UCL would be able to get its data out again in a usable format.

What happens next?

We are now in the process of setting up RSpace to work with UCL’s single-sign-on system. Once this is operational and we have tested the security of the service, we will enable access for all UCL staff and students. Further post-launch integration work will connect RSpace with the Research Data Storage Service and UCL’s Research Data Repository.

If you or your team are already using RSpace or an alternative Electronic Lab/Research notebook, and you would be interested in switching to the UCL institutional version of RSpace, let us know by writing to researchdata-support@ucl.ac.uk. Different ERNs have quite different data models, so we cannot guarantee that we will be able to migrate your existing notebooks, but we would be happy to assess what we can do.

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Research Data Repository Enhancement Project

The Research Data Repository Enhancement Project is adding additional functionality to UCL’s existing institutional data repository. The UCL Research Data Repository may be accessed at rdr.ucl.ac.uk, with user support available from Library Services.


Whilst the Repository is already an operational and supported service, it cannot yet meet all of the use cases we identified during the scoping phase of the project or which we have encountered since the service went live. A number of enhancements will be required before it can meet its full potential. These include: the ability to handle and host sensitive data; the ability for faculties and departments to customize the base metadata schema; improvements to automate the linking of research data with related research outputs; the development of a workflow and mechanism for moving data from the Research Data Storage Service to the Repository; and the implementation of tools to support long-term data curation – including identifying data at risk of obsolescence and enabling format migrations.

Current situation

UCL’s institutional Research Data Repository was launched on 5th June 2019 and has received over 200 data deposits in its first 5 months of operations. The current interface provider, Figshare, are continuing to develop the functionality of the service, and we will be working with them over the coming years to ensure that developments reflect UCL’s requirements. We will also be undertaking work of our own to ensure we have the necessary skills and understanding within the support team to be able to advise researchers how to share their data appropriately and how to meet their funders’ requirements.

This phase of the project will focus on how to deal with potentially sensitive data along with integrations with other research data management systems, including tools for long-term data preservation.

Get Involved!

Whilst we have already done a substantial requirements-gathering exercise for the Research Data Repository, we are always interested in hearing about unusual use cases or funder requirements. If you are generating data which you are expected to share, but which cannot be shared completely openly, we would be interested in hearing more from you, to ensure that we are able to meet your needs in future.

In addition, we are interested in hearing from people working in disciplines or departments that have particular metadata requirements. At present, when adding data to the repository, the depositor is asked to fill in some fairly basic descriptive metadata. We are aware, however, that in some subject areas there are widely-used community metadata standards employed when sharing data. Figshare interfaces are flexible enough that we can add customised fields to capture relevant information. If your department would like a customized version of the deposit form, please let us know by writing to researchdatarepository@ucl.ac.uk.

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Globus is coming to UCL

The Research Data Services team is happy to announce that Globus data transfer will shortly be available to researchers at UCL

Globus enables fast, secure, transfers of research data between institutions. It is particularly useful when transferring large files and high volumes of data, ensuring that performance is optimized and transfers monitored, enabling what they describe as a ‘fire and forget’ model. Encryption is supported.

One UCL end-point will be UCL’s Research Data Storage Service (RDSS). The Myriad high-throughput computing facility will be also be connected soon after. Departmental and personal end points are also an option.

If you would like to discuss this further, please get in touch via researchdata-support@ucl.ac.uk

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Research Database Scoping Project

This project will scope requirements amongst researchers for a sustainable research database service and assess the suitability of available solutions to meet those requirements. It will also estimate the likely costs of developing and implementing a service to address it.

If you would like to speak to us about your requirements – please get in touch with us at researchdata-support@ucl.ac.uk.


Without access to in-house expertise and ongoing support, many researchers design and develop databases that are poorly normalized, resulting in limitations to the questions they can ask of their data and making it difficult to share, re-use, or recombine data in the future.

Researchers commonly pay for a developer to help design their databases but then lack the expertise to ensure that the resulting database is fit for purpose. And once the developer’s contract expires or project funding ceases, researchers are often left with a database that they are unable to host or support. This is problematic, especially when UCL policy and external funder requirements demand that research data be preserved and made accessible to others.

Inappropriate outsourcing of database support can also result in breaches of the Data Protection Act if personal or sensitive information is present in the data or poorly anonymized.

Current situation

Whilst the Research Data Storage Service already provides file storage for researchers during the active phase of a research project (whether externally funded or otherwise), and the Research Data Repository can help publish and preserve data over the long term, these services are of limited use to those who would like to format or query their data as a database. The Research Data Services (RDS) team want to help researchers effectively manage all of the research data researchers produce in the course of their research throughout the entire project and data life-cycle, not just static flat files.

ISD already offers a database hosting service, although it is currently mostly used by professional services. We will be considering whether a good approach to meeting researcher requirements would be to adapt this existing service to meet new use cases or whether something different is needed.

ISD also offer web interface development expertise, enabling controlled or public searching of databases, which may again go some way already to meeting the research needs.

Additionally, the Data Safe Haven team can offer specialist software and a certain amount of support for databases of sensitive data.

There is not, however, a single point of contact for research database support, nor an overarching service that can bring the collective expertise of ISD and Research IT Support to support researchers with databases.

Get Involved!

I you would like to speak to the project about your own database support requirements, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please send an email to researchdata-support@ucl.ac.uk outlining your needs. Even if we cannot at present offer you all the support we would like to be able to, reaching a better understanding of the issues you are encountering will help inform this project and result in better support in future.

Project Progress

The Research Database Scoping Project has been assigned funding and is beginning to gather requirements.

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