Metadata during data acquisition¶
(Numerical) data without accompanying metadata are pretty useless, as data can only be analysed (and the results somewhat reproduced) knowing the context of their recording, i.e. what (instrumental) parameters have been used for data acquisition and what sample has been measured. While the ASpecD framework and derived packages take care of recording all metadata acquired during data processing and analysis, we are here concerned with metadata during data acquisition, i.e. the step before ASpecD and derived packages enter the stage.
While most spectrometers automatically record some instrumental parameters and include them in the vendor file format, usually these parameters are not sufficiently complete, and essential information such as what sample has been measured (by whom) is regularly not included. Hence, you need to manually record essential metadata during data acquisition, and to allow ASpecD/derived packages to access these crucial metadata, you better use a file format that can automatically be imported together with the data.
The Infofile format¶
Recording metadata during data acquisition is both, an essential aspect of and as old as science itself. The Infofile format is a simple textual file format developed to document research data. It allows researchers in the lab to record all relevant metadata during data acquisition in a user-friendly and obvious way while minimising any external dependencies. The resulting machine-actionable metadata in turn allow processing and analysis software to access relevant information, besides making the research data more reproducible and FAIRer.
The ASpecD framework and derived packages will automatically look for a file with the same base name and the extension
.info when importing files. Hence, the clear advice is to make it a habit to record all relevant metadata in an Infofile during data acquisition and store it next to the actual data files.
Further information on the format including the full specification and a discussion of the advantages (and disadvantages) compared to other formats can be found in the following publication:
Bernd Paulus, Till Biskup: Towards more reproducible and FAIRer research data: documenting provenance during data acquisition using the Infofile format. Digital Discovery 2:234–244, 2023, doi:10.1039/D2DD00131D
For actual Infofile example files, see the git repository available at GitHub:
An example of a (rather artificial) general Infofile is provided below for convenience as well.
Simple text format
Storing structured, machine-actionable metadata
Minimum formatting overhead
Focussing on human-writability
No external (software) dependencies
No thinking required: never miss any relevant parameter
All information for the materials&methods part always available (even for collaboration partners)
Automatic import using ASpecD and derived packages: information available during data processing and analysis (and in reports)
Big step forward towards truly reproducible research
Below is an example of a generic Infofile. For actual methods, you need to extend the file with specific blocks and key–value pairs. The format should be pretty self-explaining. For templates and information regarding further development, see the corresponding GitHub repository. A full format description is given in the accompanying publication.
common Info file - v. 0.1.0
Date start: 2020-04-04
Time start: 11:05:00
Date end: 2020-04-04
Time end: 15:50:00
Operator: John Doe
Purpose: Kill time
Name: Random sample 1
Description: Nicked from bench neighbour
Model: Some fancy commercial spectrometer
Software: SpectrometerControl v0.1-alpha
Temperature: 120 K
Controller: Oxford ITC 503
Cryostat: Oxford 935CF
To be or not to be...