Tool of the Week: Using Google Forms for Research

I love google docs, it's an awesome way to collaborate on word processing files and spreadsheets, and have them available from anywhere.  I have a few google spreadsheets I use daily in the lab with calibration curves and other important info, but I wanted to talk about a less obvious google doc that i find invaluable: Google Forms. 

You may have already heard of google forms and used them for their intended purpose, surveys. But, if you work in research you know that every time you run any experiment or a model there are countless peices of information you need to record.  What was the temperature? What was the concentration? What did you do? Did you turn on the vacuum?  Did you remember to clean the filter?  What was the flow speed? What were the camera settings? Where were the camera's positioned?  The list goes on an on.

You could try to remember to jot all the information down in your lab notebook, but sometimes you forget a piece.  So I have everything I could possibly need to record in a google form.  When the experiment is running I run through the form, making sure i've checked every box and recorded ever piece of information.  When I need to go back to re-create a given run, The data is in a nice spreadsheet and I know exactly what I did.

I've convinced others I work with to use it too.  Even students doing numerical work can record in the form each run's parameters, so if they forget which run was Re 1400 with spacing of 3 and Pe of 1000, they can just look it up in their table and easily find that model.  It's great!