Issue Date: March 19, 2007
THE WEATHER wasn't cooperative when Pittcon 2007, this year's Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy, was held in Chicago late last month—always a risky time of year for a Chicago meeting.
The incoming flights of many conferees were canceled owing to severe winter weather on Feb. 25, the first day of the laboratory science meeting. Some scientists missed their scheduled symposium talks, many conferees couldn't get to Chicago to listen to them, and some exhibitors had trouble getting their trucks to the city to set up their booths.
But despite a slow start, all was not lost. By Monday or Tuesday, most attendees had straggled into Chicago, and most missing exhibitor booths had been set up. And Pittcon's registration figures this year defied winter encroachments.
"Given all the delays, people are still getting in here somehow, some way," said Pittcon 2007 President Beth L. Kirol early in the meeting week. "Registration is exceeding expectations, with registration numbers tracking well ahead of 2006." By the time the meeting was over, the registration total for 2007 had reached 21,550, about 10% above the total of 19,671 at the 2006 meeting in decidedly more balmy Orlando, Fla.
A major contributor to growth this year just may have been an agreement that transferred the complete technical program of the American Chemical Society's Division of Analytical Chemistry to Pittcon from the spring ACS national meeting, where it usually convenes along with most other ACS divisions. "The division approached us last year to ask if we would partner with them," Kirol said. With only a four-week difference between Pittcon and the spring ACS national meeting and with both being held in Chicago this year, division officers "were concerned that conferees might primarily choose to attend the bigger meeting, Pittcon," and that this would lead to sparse attendance at division sessions at the ACS meeting.
So division Chair Laurie E. Locascio, a project leader and biomedical engineer at the National Institute of Standards & Technology, along with other division officers decided to move the analytical program from the ACS national meeting to Pittcon this year.
Kirol said Pittcon and division officials "agreed that this was a cost-effective way to allow our attendees to hit one meeting and take advantage of things that ACS has to offer and Pittcon has to offer." Division of Analytical Chemistry events at this year's Pittcon included four symposia-on nanoscale self-assembly, nanobiotechnology, tropical disease detection (see page 56), and global climate change—as well as six contributed sessions and an undergrad poster session.
The arrangement is not permanent, but it will continue to some extent through next year. In 2008, both Pittcon and the spring ACS national meeting will coincidentally be held in the same city again, in this case New Orleans, and the analytical chemistry division plans to split its program between the two meetings.
Another new feature of this year's Pittcon was a series of eight conferee networking sessions on topics suggested by attendees. These were informal gatherings at which conferees could meet and discuss technologies, problems, and solutions in different subject areas.
A highlight of the networking sessions was one on instrumentation challenges for developing countries, led by ACS European Affairs Manager Chapin Rodriguez. "We had 24 attendees, and they were quite engaged," Rodriguez said. Several ideas emerged for how organizations like ACS could help scientists in difficult environments obtain and maintain the equipment they need.
Other networking sessions were on topics ranging from the use of analytical techniques to improve the efficiency of pharmaceutical development to electronic nose technology and metals speciation.
"These are very different from many scientific meetings, where someone talks and people listen," Rodriguez said. "I hope Pittcon continues with this program because we need more of this kind of meeting in science." Indeed, Pittcon officials plan not only to continue the networking sessions but also to expand the number and diversity of topics in future years.
Pittcon also supports science and technology in the local communities in which it holds its conferences. This year, Pittcon gave its annual Science Education Award, currently a $24,800 grant, to the science department at Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative High School in Chicago to help it purchase science education equipment.
In addition, this year Pittcon gave a grant of more than $100,000 to the public school system of New Orleans, where Pittcon 2007 was originally scheduled to be held. Because of the devastation caused to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Pittcon officials decided about a year ago to switch the meeting to Chicago this year.
A mainstay of each year's Pittcon is the Centcom Breakfast, sponsored by ACS's advertising management subsidiary. At this year's breakfast, Gary S. Calabrese, vice president and chief technology officer of Rohm and Haas, told attendees that "there are major unmet needs in society that can only be solved by chemists, chemical engineers, and material scientists." Chemical science and technology also has much to offer for improving cost and environmental and health impacts in the way companies manufacture chemical products, he said.
Horst Hemmerle, director of Lead Generation Technologies for Lilly Research Laboratories, told Centcom breakfasters that analytical chemists in the drug industry can make optimal contributions to their companies by becoming active members of project teams instead of simply viewing themselves as passive providers of support services. He noted, for example, that this kind of change in the way mass spectrometrists work at Lilly has led to an improved understanding of the underlying pharmacology of drug prospects and has resulted in higher quality clinical candidates and a faster pace for moving drug candidates into clinical trials.
The Pittcon exposition, with its plethora of new instrumentation and lab equipment, is always one of the main draws of the annual conference. Each year, C&EN asks a panel of academic researchers to evaluate product introductions at the exposition in three areas-chromatography, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, and mass spectrometry (MS).
CHROMATOGRAPHY. Chemistry professor Stephen Weber of the University of Pittsburgh was C&EN's adviser on chromatographic instrumentation this year. One Pittcon new product he found interesting is Agilent Technologies' 7890A Gas Chromatograph, the first in a new generation of the company's venerable series of GC units. "By sound engineering, Agilent has designed the system to control gas flow without leakage," Weber said, resulting in better predictability and reproducibility than with previous designs. The instrument also provides faster cycle times (more analytical runs per day), he said.
Dionex' Reagent-Free Ion Chromatography System with Eluent Regeneration (RFIC-ER) uses a set of purification columns to recycle solvent used in chromatographic runs. "The eluent only needs to be recharged every four weeks," Weber said, whereas normally an IC eluent needs to be changed every day or so. "This saves time and leads to better reproducibility."
The Eksigent ExpressRT-100 reaction-monitoring system uses microfluidic sampling and a fast microfluidic liquid chromatograph to obtain multidimensional kinetics data on reaction systems. The chromatograph's solvent-delivery system "is exceedingly simple and is thus likely to be long-lived and reliable," Weber said. And its software—which controls the instrument, monitors reaction progress, and plots data—includes viscosities of many solvent systems to allow constant-flow pumping suitable for capillary separations, he said. The system makes it easy "to sample reaction mixtures in an automated and reproducible way to get information on how well or poorly a reaction is proceeding," he noted.
Eksigent also introduced the ExpressLC-800 Plus, an LC instrument with a programmable solvent-switching system that speeds methods development. The switching system makes up to six solvents available to each of eight chromatographic channels. The instrument's advantages are low solvent-consumption rate at low flow rates and the ability to run several separations on the same sample, making it possible to create new methods rapidly, Weber said.
Paraytec's ActiPix D100 miniature UV area-imaging detector tied for a second-place Pittcon Editors' Award. These awards, honoring the most innovative new instruments of the year, are decided by a vote of journalists at Pittcon. (C&EN's Pittcon reporters did not vote.) The ActiPix D100 is a detector for capillary LC and capillary electrophoresis that allows minute (picoliter to nanoliter) volumes to be measured with high sensitivity without sacrificing spatial resolution. "It is very clever," Weber said. "The noise level is low, the dynamic range is high, and using the detector appears simple."
Weber also liked three other chromatographic instruments at the show. The first of these, Torion Technologies' Guardion-7, is a hand-portable capillary GC and GC-MS instrument designed for rapid screening of chemical warfare agents, explosives, and hazardous substances. Weber noted that a second instrument, PerkinElmer's Clarus 600 GC and GC-MS system, has improved cycle time (allowing more sample injections per hour) and that its MS component has improved speed and size compared with earlier PerkinElmer GC and GC-MS systems. And about Jasco's Preparative SFE/SFC (supercritical fluid extraction and chromatography system) with circular dichroism (CD) detection, Weber said, "The use of a CD detector for knowing whether a fraction is optically active is very attractive."
ATOMIC AND MOLECULAR SPECTROSCOPY. C&EN's adviser in atomic spectroscopy was chemistry professor David J. Butcher of Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C. The Activa-M ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer) by Horiba Jobin Yvon, which tied for a third-place Pittcon Editors' Award, "allows you to simulate matrix effects," Butcher said. "With conventional ICP-OES systems, it can be useful to approximate matching of the composition of standard solutions to the composition of the sample solutions being analyzed," he said. With the Activa-M, "you can do simulated matrix matching—that is, you can matrix-match with the software," Butcher added. "That's pretty cool and may be advantageous for some samples."
In addition, Butcher liked portable X-ray fluorescence analyzers that were introduced this year. Bruker AXS's handheld Tracer III-V XRF analyzer is designed for museum, art, and conservation analysis. Thermo Fisher Scientific's portable Niton XLt 898He XRF analyzer is the first that permits nondestructive measurements of light elements in metal alloys, and its Niton XLt 797X measures sample areas 20 times smaller than was possible before, according to the company. "Compared with earlier handheld XRF designs, Bruker and Thermo have refined these instruments and enhanced their capabilities to handle different types of samples," Butcher said.
Assistant professor of bioengineering Rohit Bhargava of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, evaluated new product introductions for C&EN in the area of molecular spectroscopy. The general trend in the field this year "was toward more-compact instrumentation that can be used in quality control or process applications," Bhargava said. Advances in engineering and precise microfabrication, rather than quantum leaps in technology, drove these instrument improvements, he noted. Another theme at this year's show "was a continued merging of capabilities in instruments," he said—such as combining mid-infrared (IR) with near-IR spectroscopy, or IR with Raman spectroscopy.
Aspectrics introduced a new Encoded Photometric Near-IR (EP-NIR) process analyzer "featuring an innovative approach to spectral acquisition, an expanded spectral range of 1,375-2,750 nm," and a greater uniformity of response across the range of frequencies, Bhargava said. Instead of using an interferometer, "in which a mirror has to traverse a displacement and return to its original position before performing a second scan, the EP-NIR spectrometer utilizes a diffraction grating and a continuously rotating reflective disk" to produce an interferogram, he explained. With no need for a mirror drive and laser, this design "is simpler, and data acquisition is faster."
Bruker Optics claims its new Alpha Fourier transform IR (FTIR) spectrometer is the world's smallest. "The footprint of the instrument is about that of an A4-size sheet of paper," Bhargava said. "Alpha is targeted to quality control and process applications, where mid-IR spectral data are required. The instrument is also likely to be attractive to educational institutions for teaching or demonstrations."
PerkinElmer unveiled the Spectrum 400, "a combined near-IR and mid-IR spectrometer in a single, research-grade instrument," Bhargava said. Transitions between the two wavelength ranges "are facilitated by software-controlled drives for precise interchange of sources and beam splitter. The instrument can switch automatically between near-IR and mid-IR measurement modes and two sampling positions, and it offers imaging in reflection, transmission, and attenuated total reflectance modes," he said.
Two other molecular spectroscopy updates Bhargava found interesting this year are Axsun Technologies' Anavo Analyzer and Horiba Jobin Yvon's LabRAM Aramis IR2 Raman and FTIR Microscope. The Anavo is a micro-optical spectrometer in which a tunable laser, a microelectromechanical systems-based tunable filter, and wavelength and power calibration are all combined on a single optical chip. The spectrometer packs high-performance spectrometric capabilities into a handheld, battery-operated package, Bhargava noted. And the LabRAM Aramis IR2 combines FTIR and Raman microspectroscopy capabilities in a single instrument.
MASS SPECTROMETRY. Professor of chemistry and biochemistry Charles L. Wilkins and postdoc Sabine Borgmann at the University of Arkansas evaluated new MS products for C&EN this year. "There's a lot of interest in doing imaging with MALDI" matrix-assisted laser desorption-ionization"and one approach is to spot a tissue sample with MALDI matrix solution wherever you want to hit it with a laser for doing MALDI," Wilkins said. "That generates a mass spectrum corresponding to that spot." Labcyte's Portrait 630 reagent multispotter and Bruker Daltonics' ImagePrep were introduced to automate spotting of MALDI matrix for imaging of tissues. Wilkins notes that Shimadzu Scientific Instruments also has an automated MALDI spotter called AccuSpot that it introduced a few years ago.
In the FTMS area, Varian now offers 15-tesla magnets (in its 900-MS series FTMS instruments), as does Bruker Daltonics (in its Apex-Ultra FTMS spectrometer). "Prior to this, 15-tesla magnets were not very reliable," Wilkins said. "It looks like the two companies have concluded that they can now reliably produce those magnets, which are fairly pricey—about $2.5 million each. Before this, 12-tesla magnets were the big thing. The 15-tesla magnet's larger magnetic field gives you higher accuracy, better precision, and better ion-trapping capabilities."
Both traditional and refrigerated 15-tesla magnets are available. "You don't have to add liquid helium to the refrigerated magnets for a year or more," he said. "That's a very positive feature because adding helium is a royal pain."
Wilkins and Borgmann also noted some innovative ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) instrumentation introduced this year. IMS spectra make it possible to distinguish biomolecules or other compounds with different sizes, shapes, or charges.
Waters' Synapt High Definition MS System, which won this year's Pittcon Editors' first-place Gold Award, incorporates an IMS unit, making it possible to define samples by size, shape, and charge, as well as the usual mass-thereby aiding protein characterization, for example. Thermo Fisher Scientific's High-Field Asymmetric Waveform Ion Mobility Spectrometry instrument "can be installed in an atmospheric pressure region between an ion source and a mass spectrometer," Wilkins said, making it possible "to do LC, then IMS analysis, and then high-resolution MS." And Bruker Daltonics is offering IMS capabilities in its new RAID-AFM trace gas detector, which is "designed to monitor large buildings and facilities for accidents or attacks involving toxic industrial chemicals or chemical warfare agents," according to the company.
Shimadzu's AXIMA-QIT, a combination of a quadrupole ion trap with a compact curved reflectron time-of-flight (TOF) spectrometer for MALDI applications, also made its Pittcon debut this year. "The quadrupole ion trap selects ions you're interested in examining," Wilkins said. "They get focused into a collision region, fragment, and are then mass analyzed by the TOF sector." This type of design is optimized for the structural characterization of biomolecules, Wilkins said.
In addition, Thermo Fisher Scientific offered the LTQ XL linear ion-trap mass spectrometer with electron-transfer dissociation (ETD), which tied for the second-place Pittcon Editors' Award. "ETD is advocated for improved accuracy in protein identification and for analyzing posttranslational modifications," Wilkins said.
Next year, Pittcon heads back to New Orleans. Kirol and colleagues on the Pittcon organizing committee have made a number of trips there to check everything from the convention center to hotels, restaurants, and hospitals. They believe that the city will be ready for Pittcon 2008. And they're hoping, as usual, that a growing number of analytical chemists and exhibitors will want to be there, too.
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