Technology Forum: Pittcon

E-Separation Solutions

E-Separation Solutions-02-09-2009, Volume 0, Issue 0

Joining us for this discussion are Tom Ricci of Ricci Communications; Mary Ellen Goffredo of Waters Corporation; Kaj Petersen of GERSTEL; and John Waraska of ESA Biosciences.

With the U.S. in a much-publicized recession and the “virtual” conference making head-way in the digital age, many are worried about the future of Pittcon and the conference industry in general. According to many experts, however, as Mark Twain said about his premature obituary, reports of Pittcon’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

Joining us for this discussion are Tom Ricci of Ricci Communications; Mary Ellen Goffredo of Waters Corporation; Kaj Petersen of GERSTEL; and John Waraska of ESA Biosciences.

How do you think Pittcon will be different this year in light of the recent economic downturn, if at all?

Ricci:In this economic climate, there no doubt will be some budget “belt tightening” going on. While I expect to see a similar number of exhibitors and booth spaces as last year in the exposition hall, there mostly likely will be less booth staff as exhibitors understandably look for ways to streamline costs. I also anticipate that there will be much more comparative shopping in the exposition as potential buyers and equipment users become more selective in their purchase plans for instrumentation and lab supplies.

Goffredo: We expect attendees will be more focused on specific needs than in years past. In today’s environment, we expect them to be more goal-oriented at Pittcon. Specifically, we expect the focus to be on technology that impacts the operational productivity of laboratories. Technologies that combine performance and simplicity to bring improvement to lab operations, ease-of-use, solvent savings, higher throughput, and more information per analysis should attract the most attention.

The economic downturn has also caused laboratories to focus on efficiency, automation, cost per sample, and the value they bring to clients. In this kind of economic environment, instruments will be evaluated for a greater number of applications and for their flexibility; for example, how quickly and how easily one can change a source in a mass spectrometer and can the instrument calibrate itself and perform self-checks that once required the attention of a skilled operator.

Petersen:I think there will be a noticeable difference. First of all, there will be a different distribution of participants in terms of the industries the visitors represent. Some industries are harder hit than others and no doubt many companies will have tightened their travel policies.But, as a second point, this means that those employees that do get to go will probably be higher on the ladder and that could provide an opportunity to talk more in-depth with people that have a lot of influence. Also, I think that there will be a great focus on automation since many companies will have hiring freezes but an undiminished or increased workload.

Waraska: There will be fewer people. It is likely that the booth space will be reduced, but not as significantly as the people. Many companies are reducing the staff sent. Attendees are being restricted from travel. If one of the major exhibitors was to withdraw there would be an even bigger effect.

What makes Pittcon the top conference in the industry?

Ricci:The broad, multidisciplinary technical program, short courses, and other educational opportunities, the exposition of the latest instrumentation, and the opportunity for face-to-face scientific interactions and networking all combine to make Pittcon a truly unique event. The importance of the event, now in its 60th year, to the scientific community is evidenced by the loyalty of the conferees and exhibitors who return year after year.

Goffredo:Simply put, Pittcon’s breadth and depth of analytical science is unmatched. Pittcon is a venue for companies to put their best foot forward and showcase the newest tools. Where else can a laboratory manager find so many firms in one location at one time, any one of which may have the combination of technologies that can transform how a lab operates?

Pittcon is many things to many different people. It offers the worldwide media a tremendous opportunity to catch up on the latest technologies and probe vendors for insight into technology development that will create the lab of the future. For investment analysts it’s a prime venue to speak to scientists about the value certain technologies bring to the laboratory. For scientists seeking to leave the laboratory and explore employment with an instrument vendor, Pittcon is a great conference to make contacts. For lab managers seeking methods and technology for food safety, environmental, fine chemical, pharmaceutical, and biopharmaceutical applications, Pittcon can't be beat.

Petersen:Pittcon gets exposure, worldwide exposure, more than any other symposium or exhibition. This means that news presented here is reported and noticed around the globe and that again means that most new products are introduced at Pittcon. There is a plethora of scientific contributions and product news every year. To me, Pittcon represents the heartbeat of the industry, it is definitely the place to be.

Waraska: I am not sure you would get agreement that it is still the top conference. It may be the biggest, but the significance has decreased. It, historically, was the meeting for product introduction. It no longer is the only place. Instruments are now introduced at other more focused meetings. There is currently no other meeting of this type in the USA. What makes Pittcon as big as it is, is that companies are afraid not to be there more than direct benefit. The current organizers are doing a good job trying to return the meeting to relevance. We support that with a strong scientific presence in the posters. However, the current economy will have a negative impact.

What trends in the industry do you expect to see at this year’s conference?

Ricci:The topics presented in the technical program are typically good indicators of current trends in science and instrumental techniques. This year, there are a number of sessions demonstrating novel uses of molecular sensors, particularly in biomedical and environmental applications. The influence of nanoscience for diagnostics applications is increasing as is the proliferation of hyphenated mass spectrometry techniques combined with advances in informatics for life science and pharmaceutical research and drug discovery. Green chemistry solutions are gaining more scrutiny and I think the acetonitrile crisis will generate much discussion between exhibitors and scientists on potential alternatives.

Goffredo:The greening of the laboratory is obviously a strong theme for this year's Pittcon. With the current worldwide acetonitrile shortage that the industry is experiencing, more conferees will be seeking advice as to how to best make use of the ACN they have and manage their "environmental footprint." It's technologies like supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) and UltraPerformance LC (UPLC) that don’t require solvents at all or that require drastically less solvent than traditional LC’s that hold enormous potential for saving money with the added benefit of better analyses and productivity.

Petersen:Throughput is the key topic. Labs are looking to run more samples with less operator involvement. Automated sample introduction and analysis has to be done reliably around the clock, sample preparation preferably included.

Waraska: A continuation of emphasis on MS, more on Biofuels, more on Bio in general. The current financial problems recently will have a major impact on product development.

Do you expect any major breakthroughs in technique or technology to be presented this year? If so, in which field?

Ricci:Continued development of microfluidic and microchip technologies have led to the commercial development of miniaturized instruments, which can be utilized in the field. I believe you will see companies exhibiting a number of new miniature instruments, even mass specs, that are designed for forensics, environmental, and medical applications.New developments in ambient desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) techniques also hold promise for the development of miniature instruments that will enable more laboratory applications.

Goffredo:Innovation in the area of mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography continues nonstop. In the past year we've seen a lot of media attention on food safety, pharmaceuticals in drinking water, vitamin D analysis, and recalls of drugs. It seems the need for analytical laboratories and for tools to get the job done faster has never been more acute. In the nine months since ASMS in June of 2008 there have been many new and significant product introductions on the MS, MS-MS, and LC–MS-MS fronts.

Pittcon is a great place to meet the experts behind the latest products, and applications and to pick their brains in terms of how best to implement them.

Petersen:I think there will be, if not major breakthroughs, then at least significant improvements. These will come mainly in the field of automated sample preparation enabling laboratories to become more productive while reducing the usage of toxic and expensive solvents.

What does the conference’s return to Chicago mean to you?

Ricci:Cold weather, a warm conference and exposition hall, and many attendees. Pittcon in Chicago always draws large crowds, particularly due to the high concentration of industry in the Chicago area. This year, the technical program will have a Midwestern flavor, as a number of academic leaders from local Universities are being recognized for their scientific achievements and presenting their research.

Goffredo:It means everyone will have to invest in overcoats, waterproof shoes, and lip balm. Seriously though, Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the world and has played host to Pittcon many times. We’re looking forward to Pittcon as a venue to showcase our many new products.

Petersen:In terms of visitors to the exhibition floor, I have always found that Pittcon is a regional exhibition in the sense that geographically the largest group of visitors is from the wider area where the exhibition is held. Chicago has always been my preferred venue. The number of visitors is always higher in Chicago and, given the snow and icy winds you have to brave to get there, the visitors that attend Pittcon in Chicago have a greater sense of purpose. I really look forward to Pittcon 2009 in Chicago.

Waraska: Bad weather and being stuck in an airport for three days. It is close to the old pharma industry so that always drew a crowd. This year with all the closings in that area it may not be an improvement. If I had my choice I would not travel to Chicago, but for a conference it is ok.