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Volume 89 Issue 14 | pp. 37-40
Issue Date: April 4, 2011

Cover Stories

New Year, New Instruments

At Pittcon 2011 attendance improves, as does the instrument industry business climate
Department: Business, Science & Technology
News Channels: Analytical SCENE
Keywords: analytical instruments, mass spectrometry (MS), chromatography, liquid chromatography (LC), high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), quadrupole mass spectrometer, time-of-flight MS, atomic spectroscopy, energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (EDXRF), X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF), gas chromatography (GC), dried blood spot analysis
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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (all)
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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (all)

In a mild southern climate and an improving business climate for the instrument industry, Pittcon 2011—the latest incarnation of the annual Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy—convened in Atlanta last month.

Pittcon 2011 President Penny Gardner, former director of a Pittsburgh environmental lab and now an educational consultant, noted the warming trend for instrumentation: “At a time when lots of shows are losing attendance, Pittcon registration is steady or increasing,” she said. Several exhibitors told her that Pittcon 2011 was the best show in years for identifying potential customers for equipment purchases.

However, Stefan Fritsch, editor of the London-based industry newsletter Instrument News, heard more mixed reactions from exhibitors. Some thought there were fewer people at the exposition than in previous years, he said. “Others said the numbers were good for them.”

Reflecting continued economic anxiety, Fritsch also heard some exhibitors question Pittcon’s annual schedule. Some exhibitors suggested that holding an exposition every other year would “free bigger companies from the expenses of an annual show,” he said.

But Gardner ruled out the idea. “I understand that an annual meeting makes large demands on personnel and expenses, especially for large exhibitors, but we have no plans to go to an every-other-year show,” she said. An annual show is appropriate, she said, because science and technology advances continuously, not intermittently.

Registration at this year’s meeting was 17,098, which is up about 1% from Pittcon 2010. However, this represents about a 50% decline from the 1990s, when Pittcon attendance peaked at over 34,000.

That decline worries Tanya Samazan, managing editor of the newsletter Instrument Business Outlook, published by Strategic Directions International, Los Angeles. “Pittcon remains an important show for the analytical instrument industry,” she said, but to remain successful it needs to increase attendance. Holding the conference in locations close to multiple cities, as in the Northeast, would help, she said.

In the analytical instrumentation market, Samazan noted that sales bounced back strongly in 2010 from 2009, helped by economic stimulus funding and by greater spending on science and technology in Asia. “This year, sales of analytical instruments are expected to grow 5%,” led by mass spectrometry (MS) and ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC), she said.

What’s more, she said, “recent large-scale acquisitions have increased competition in growing markets.”

Fritsch agreed. “Merger and acquisition activities have certainly hotted up over the last two years and will probably continue to be quite buoyant,” he said. “Lots of companies that were adversely affected by the economic crisis are so financially precarious that they have to look for acquisition partners.”

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GOLDEN
Winners of this year’s Pittcon Editors’ Gold Award were the Citius LC-HRT from Leco (above) and the True Surface Microscopy Raman spectrometer from WITec.
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GOLDEN
Winners of this year’s Pittcon Editors’ Gold Award were the Citius LC-HRT from Leco (above) and the True Surface Microscopy Raman spectrometer from WITec.

Major acquisition activity since the beginning of last year has included Danaher’s acquisition of an MS joint venture that resulted in the launch of AB Sciex as a new company; AB Sciex’ acquisition of the LC business of Eksigent Technologies; Agilent Technologies’ purchase of scientific equipment maker Varian; Bruker’s purchase from Agilent of Varian’s inductively coupled plasma MS, gas chromatography (GC), and GC triple-quadrupole MS units; Bruker’s acquisition of scanning probe microscopy and optical imaging metrology businesses from Veeco Instruments; Thermo Fisher Scientific’s planned purchase of LC and ion-chromatography maker Dionex; Bruker’s agreement to acquire UHPLC and MS ionization source vendor Michrom Bio­re­sources; and Danaher’s offer to acquire Beckman Coulter.

Several of these deals were “massive acquisitions that will certainly redraw the map of the analytical instrument industry,” Fritsch said. “They will have repercussions for the next few years and will change the competitive landscape quite a bit.”

Every year, instrument companies trot out their latest and greatest instruments at Pittcon’s huge exposition, and 2011 was no exception. For example, Shimadzu’s newly introduced LCMS-8030 is “an intriguing addition” to the very active market for LC-MS instruments, said mass spectrometrist Gary Siuzdak of Scripps Research Institute. C&EN asks several researchers to comment on Pittcon new-product developments, and Siuzdak was our MS adviser this year.

The LCMS-8030 combines the high sample throughput of UHPLC with a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer—a type of instrument widely used in clinical diagnostics, drug research, proteomics, and metabolomics. Measuring unknown substances for such applications sometimes requires that the mass spectrometer be able to switch polarity to detect both positive and negative ions. Shimadzu’s LCMS-8030 features fast polarity switching, making LC-MS analysis more convenient. The new instrument also has a strength in its relatively low price, Siuzdak said.

Bruker’s new maXis 4G electrospray Q-TOF (quadrupole time-of-flight) mass spectrometer is also noteworthy, Siuzdak said, because at full sensitivity, it achieves a resolution “50% greater than other Q-TOF commercial instruments.” Like triple-quadrupole mass spectrometers, Q-TOF spectrometers are widely used for LC-MS.

Journalists attending Pittcon vote on Editors’ Awards for the most innovative and groundbreaking instruments at each year’s show (C&EN editors do not vote). Two instruments shared this year’s top honor: the Editors’ Gold Award. One is WITec’s True Surface Microscopy system. The other is a mass spectrometer aimed at the LC-MS market: Leco Corp.’s Citius LC-HRT (LC-high-resolution TOF-MS) system. The Citius LC-HRT obtains mass spectra quickly, at high resolution, and with good mass accuracy. Its resolution is 167% that of any previous commercial TOF instrument, Siuzdak said. “The advantage of the increased resolution,” he added, “is you can distinguish between molecules whose m/z [mass-to-charge ratios] would otherwise overlap with each other—particularly molecules with similar elemental composition. Applications include accurate mass measurements of pharmaceuticals, metabolites, peptides, and proteins.”

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BOOTHS GALORE
Fisheye view of Pittcon 2011 exposition floor, which included more than 2,000 booths.
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BOOTHS GALORE
Fisheye view of Pittcon 2011 exposition floor, which included more than 2,000 booths.

Another instrument with an “interesting design” at this year’s Pittcon, Siuzdak said, was Jeol’s SpiralTOF mass spectrometer, which has an “extraordinarily long” 17-meter spiral-shaped ion flight path in a compact configuration. “This allows ions to travel farther, allowing them more time to separate,” and accounts for the instrument’s good resolution, he said. The SpiralTOF was announced at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry meeting in May 2010, but this year’s Pittcon hosted the first full-size mock-up. Potential applications of the instrument include proteomics and research on synthetic polymers, materials, and biomolecules.

A number of innovative chromatography products were also introduced at this year’s meeting, according to chromatographer Jonathan V. Sweedler of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who helped C&EN evaluate them. Agilent, Dionex, and Shimadzu introduced “a range of new enhancements, such as improved software, modified sample introduction, and lots of hyphenated instruments,” Sweedler said.

Noteworthy among other introductions was Waters’ supercritical fluid chromatograph, the Waters Acquity UPSFC. Compared with conventional HPLC, the UPSFC cuts run times by 90%, reduces solvent usage by as much as 95%, and cuts the cost of analyses by as much as 99%, according to the company.

Two new products also address the unheralded area of chromatographic sample preparation in new ways, Sweedler said: Millipore’s Samplicity Filtration System and Shimadzu Scientific Instruments’ Perfinity Workstation. “When one thinks of a metabolomics or proteomics laboratory, the mass spectrometer and chromatography system are what pops into most analytical chemists’ heads,” he said. But “sample preparation steps tend to be labor-intensive and the areas where inefficiencies and problems result.”

The Samplicity system uses vacuum filtration, instead of conventional syringe-tip filters, to rapidly clean up as many as eight samples at a time for LC analysis. The system—which won the Pittcon Editors’ second-place Silver Award—filters quickly, and with virtually no losses, samples that have high viscosity or that contain particulates, such as tissue homogenates and blood samples. “We certainly are going to try their system on some of our more difficult samples in the coming months,” Sweedler said. “The product appears well suited to laboratories with an intermediate number of small-volume samples.”

Shimadzu’s Perfinity Workstation is a multicolumn apparatus that automates protein separations and sample preparation for LC-MS analysis. Shimadzu developed it in partnership with Perfinity Biosciences, West Lafayette, Ind. The instrument combines Shimadzu hardware components with five Perfinity columns, each of which performs a single type of sample-preparation step: affinity selection, buffer exchange, digestion, desalting, or reverse-phase separation. According to Shimadzu, the automated integration of these steps enables users to produce from serum peptides ready for LC-MS analysis faster than with conventional techniques. The ability “to modify the procedures for a range of applications should make this a flexible platform,” Sweedler said.

As in past years, portability was an added attraction for GC at Pittcon 2011. New versions of portable instruments included the Forston Mini Gas Chromatograph from Seacoast Science, Carlsbad, Calif., and Forston Labs, Fort Collins, Colo. This instrument combines traditional GC components with a MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) sensor and Forston’s LabNavigator handheld analyzer to create a shoebox-size lightweight GC system. Another newly announced instrument, the Calidus microGC by Falcon Analytical, Ronceverte, W.Va., “is slightly larger but still portable,” Sweedler said. Portable gas chromatographs are “faster, smaller, and greener” than conventional systems, he said, and can move out of the lab and into the field.

Also furthering the miniaturization trend in chromatography was the ePump by SFC Fluidics, Fayetteville, Ark., “a microfluidic-based pulse-free liquid-pumping system that delivers nanoliter- to microliter-per-minute solvent volumes with a battery-operated device,” Sweedler said. “Perhaps in the future, such pumps will be integrated with miniaturized LC systems.”

The trend toward smaller GC and LC instruments will continue, Sweedler predicted. He said that he was curious to see whether higher performance or smaller size would predominate in coming years.

“It was not an especially ‘new’ year for molecular spectroscopy” at Pittcon 2011, said D. Bruce Chase, chief technical officer at PAIR Technologies, Newark, Del., and C&EN’s adviser in molecular spectroscopy. But he found exceptions, and one was the True Surface Microscopy system from WITec. The True Surface Microscopy system uses an optical sensor to obtain topographic data on sample surfaces and then directs that information to a confocal Raman imaging spectrometer.

Chase praised the instrument’s selection for an Editors’ Gold Award. “The issue of topography-induced artifacts in Raman microscopy has been significant for the last several years,” he said. “In fact, it has limited application of the technique to only pretty flat surfaces.” In confocal Raman microscopy, distance from the microscope’s objective to the surface must be constant to within a few micrometers, but samples are rarely that flat. “Mapping topography and using it to real-time-adjust the focus” of a Raman spectrometer automatically “is a big advance,” he said. The result should be much higher fidelity images from confocal Raman measurements.

Chase also liked the IPS-4 spectrometer from Ametek Process Instruments, Berwyn, Pa. The IPS-4 analyzer takes an “innovative” approach, according to Chase, to produce high-quality spectra: It obtains simultaneous infrared and ultraviolet-visible (UV-Vis) absorption spectra, compares the data, and uses the most favorable absorptions in both spectra to minimize interferences. Such an approach should improve process measurements, in which “there can be significant overlap of spectral features, making it difficult to extract true concentration information,” Chase said.

Also in the molecular spectroscopy area, the AstraGene UV-Vis spectrometer, by AstraNet Systems, Cambridge, England, won the Pittcon Editors’ third-place Bronze Award. The instrument’s light source and detector are used to analyze small volumes of DNA, RNA, protein, and other biological materials inside pipette tips, which serve as sample vials. Users can then recover precious samples from the pipette tips for further research.

Atomic spectroscopy introductions were not plentiful this year, according to C&EN atomic spectroscopy adviser Joseph A. Caruso of the University of Cincinnati. Notable instruments included Epsilon 3 benchtop energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) spectrometers from PANalytical, Almelo, the Netherlands. They use selective excitation, careful X-ray-detector matching, and advanced spectrum processing to match or surpass the performance of larger, more powerful EDXRF units. Potential applications include analysis of cement, mining samples, minerals, petroleum, and polymers. Another noteworthy instrument was the Niton FXL by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a handheld XRF analyzer that offers high performance and low detection limits for identifying lead and other toxic metals in toys and other consumer goods. It could, according to Thermo, help “importers, brand owners, and retailers implement a standardized inspection protocol for incoming shipments to verify compliance at all stages of the supply chain.”

 
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