The 55th Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy blew into Chicago earlier this month, propelled as usual by the winds of change. This year's incarnation of one of the world's premier instrument shows was marked by an improved business climate for instrument makers and a number of innovative new products, particularly in the vibrational spectroscopy and chromatography areas.
Total registration was 25,025--a bit more than half of which were conferees and a little less than half, exhibitors. Overall registration was up a healthy 11% from 2003's figure of 22,628, and the increase in conferees alone was even better, at 18%.
"We were pleased that the number of conferees rose almost 20% over last year and that we had the most conferees since 1999," said this year's Pittcon president, research chemist John P. Baltrus of the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory.
Electroanalytical chemist Larry R. Faulkner, now president of the University of Texas, Austin, discussed "the breathtaking development of analytical capabilities from the 1960s through the present day" in his plenary lecture at the conference. "Before the sixties, most analytical chemistry was done with genuinely chemical methods," Faulkner said. "Most samples were what we would now regard as humongous in size, and a single determination took minutes to days, depending on sample preparation."
All that changed "with the solid-state revolution, and especially with the advent of the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, and the laser," Faulkner said. "Perhaps the most intense period was the decade of the seventies, when new electronic, optical, and separations capabilities opened a period of astounding analytical development." With today's instrumentation, he said, "remarkable analytical power now rests easily in our hands, and it is changing the way that we as a society are thinking about our world, our competitive opportunities, our legal constructs, and our politics."
Special lectures also were given at this year's Pittcon by two winners of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: fellow Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu Corp., Kyoto, Japan, and biophysics professor Kurt Wüthrich of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, and Scripps Research Institute. Tanaka emphasized the importance of creativity and teamwork in the development of soft ionization methods for biomolecular mass spectrometry (MS). And Wüthrich discussed his group's work on biomolecular nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy methods and their applicability to proteomics.
BUSINESS CLIMATE. At the annual Pittcon breakfast sponsored by Centcom, the American Chemical Society's advertising unit, two analysts who follow the instrument market assessed the current business climate for instrument makers. Lawrence H. Neibor, senior research analyst and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee, said that the instrument sector including electronic testing and process control equipment, in addition to analytical instruments, peaked in 2000 and experienced a significant subsequent slowdown through the recent recession. However, for that sector, he expects the industry to return soon to a peak in growth, most likely in late 2005. "Growth could be at least 10% in each of the next two years," he said.
Life sciences and instrumentation analyst Paul R. Knight of Thomas Weisel Partners, New York City, agreed that there will be an upturn in analytical instrument sales and that it "should be quite significant as we go into 2004 and 2005--[assuming] the economic recovery isn't tepid, as some people fear." He predicted 7.4% instrument sales growth in 2004 and a further increase of 10.8% in 2005--"probably the best cyclical upturn we've had in at least 15 years in the industry," he noted. Merger and acquisition activity and equity values of analytical instrument companies also seem to be on the upswing. "You will have pockets of strength and pockets of weakness," Knight said, but "an exciting 2004 and 2005 are ahead of us."
Asked by C&EN to comment on the analytical business climate, Alex Sands, editor of Instrumenta, a newsletter on the worldwide laboratory equipment and analytical instrument industries, noted that "Pittcon was very upbeat this year compared to a year ago. Following a challenging couple of years for the industry, the months leading up to this year's event showed a recovery in spending on laboratory and analytical equipment, which exhibitors were confident would be sustained. This was supported by the increase in conferees reported by the organizers."
Sands added that "the number and size of exhibition booths were down, reflecting some of the general cost restraints that many companies have been forced to make recently and some of the consolidation that has gone on. As the Pittcon Editors' Awards show, however, there remains a strong base of R&D, with exciting, innovative companies such as Axsun Technologies and TeraView appearing on the scene and sustained investment in R&D by the larger manufacturers." The Pittcon Editors' Awards honor Pittcon product introductions found to be most significant by journalists covering the meeting.
More guarded assessments were made by Tanya Samazan--managing editor of Instrument Business Outlook, a newsletter on the analytical and life sciences instrument markets published by Strategic Directions International, Los Angeles--and also by SDi President and CEO Lawrence S. Schmid. "Uncertainty and cautiousness were the watchwords for 2003, with analytical and life sciences manufacturers taking important but measured steps toward expansion," Samazan said. "Product development efforts seemed to be timed to hit the market as it surged upward. However, the market did not cooperate, growing worldwide at about the same 7% rate as in 2002." She noted that merger and acquisition activity "picked up in 2003, but most deals were small, with the objective of filling in product line gaps or tapping into more dynamic growth areas."
Schmid said that "a lesson learned in 2003 was not to count too heavily on the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors for sustainable growth. As these industries rationalized their approach to technology implementation, especially for sophisticated instrumentation, prospects were decidedly less robust than in previous years. Consequently, the global analytical and life sciences instrument industry expanded modestly in 2003, reaching a revenue level of about $25.5 billion in 2003. This figure includes instrument systems, aftermarket purchases, and service. The closely related laboratory equipment market--for example, sample preparation, thermal conditioning, and environmental control equipment--grew somewhat more slowly than the instrument market, experiencing growth of from 4 to 5% in 2003."
In the future, Schmid said, "as the worldwide economy rebounds, especially in North America, the laboratory market will likewise benefit. This, coupled with dramatic growth in China, India, and throughout Asia, suggests that moderate overall expansion is likely in 2004, with 2005 being even more promising."
VIBRATIONAL AND ATOMIC SPECTROSCOPY. In the vibrational spectroscopy sector of this year's Pittcon exposition, the TPI spectra1000, a pulsed time-domain terahertz (THz) spectrometer system from Bruker Optics and TeraView, shared first-place gold in the Pittcon Editors' Awards. The instrument was not actually released for the first time at Pittcon 2004, but rather at a vibrational spectroscopy conference in England late last summer.
Potential applications of the TPI spectra1000 range from solid-state and plasma studies to pharmaceutical analysis. The instrument's frequency range of 100 GHz to about 3 THz "covers the region that most of us call the far-IR [far-infrared]," commented chemistry professor Peter R. Griffiths, a vibrational spectroscopist at the University of Idaho. "I did my Ph.D. about 40 years ago making measurements" in approximately the same region of the spectrum, he said, "although the performance of the new instrument is way higher than the old Fourier transform [FT] far-IR instrument that I was using."
Among other notable vibrational spectroscopy introductions this year, Griffiths said, were "several new Raman spectroscopy instruments in the sub-$40,000 range that will be suitable either for teaching or for use in the Food & Drug Administration's Process Analytical Technology Initiative"--an effort to develop design, analysis, and control techniques that can be used to ensure high quality in the development and manufacture of drugs.
In addition, Griffiths noted that several new instruments "make use of array detection, which actually may be heralding a post-FTIR generation of mid-IR spectrometers"--which could complement the FTIR design that has long dominated high-performance vibrational spectroscopy. "The most interesting to my mind," he said, was the Variable Filter Array Spectrometer from Wilks Enterprise, a compact IR spectrometer with a linearly variable filter and a 64-element array detector. The company's founder, Paul A. Wilks Jr., received this year's Pittcon Heritage Award, which honors entrepreneurial contributions to the instrumentation community.
According to Griffiths, "A number of people to whom I spoke were also very excited about" the NIR-APS (near-IR application prototyping system) from Axsun Technologies. The instrument is a miniaturized near-IR analyzer that can make process measurements under harsh conditions on industrial production lines. It won third-place bronze in the 2004 Pittcon Editors' Awards.
In atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), introductions included two new instruments from Varian: the AA280Z (Zeeman) spectrometer, which has a new graphite furnace, and the AA280FS (fast sequential) flame spectrometer, with an eight-lamp capacity. According to the company, the AA280FS provides up to 50% improvement in analysis speed, compared with conventional AAS instruments.
Several companies, including GV Instruments, Agilent Technologies, and Thermo Electron, introduced new inductively coupled plasma-MS (ICP-MS) systems. Chemistry professor R. S. Houk of Iowa State University, a specialist in analytical spectroscopy, commented that the GV and Agilent instruments have improved collision cells over earlier versions, and that the Thermo Electron instrument features an integrated gas chromatography (GC) or liquid chromatography (LC) unit for speciation measurements.
And Ocean Optics announced the LIBS20001, a laser-induced breakdown spectrometer that measures trace elements in solids, liquids, and gases. It's the first LIBS instrument to offer broadband spectral analysis, according to the company. "Compared to long-standing applications of ICP and AAS instruments, commercial LIBS instruments are still a bit of a work in progress, but they do have very important potential uses for on-site analysis," Houk said.
CHROMATOGRAPHY. Miniaturization was a key trend behind a number of new chromatography products this year. Sharing first-place gold in the 2004 Pittcon Editors' Awards (with the TPI spectra1000 THz spectrometer) was the Acquity (pronounced "acuity") Ultra Performance LC (UPLC) System from Waters. According to the company, the Acquity provides up to nine times faster chromatographic run times, up to a factor of two improvement in resolution or peak capacity (number of resolvable peaks per unit time), and a factor of three enhancement in sensitivity, compared with the fastest commercial high-performance LC (HPLC) systems.
The Acquity is "a big development," commented chemistry professor James W. Jorgenson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who specializes in analytical separations. "It involves using much higher pump pressures to run mobile phase through columns packed with sub-2-µm particles," whereas current HPLCs typically use stationary-phase particles in the 3.5- to 5-µm range.
"I think it is the beginning of what is going to be a major new trend in LC--the use of columns packed with sub-2-µm particles and operated at pressures much higher than conventional HPLC columns," Jorgenson said. "This looks to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the past 30 years of HPLC, in the sense that the conventional pressures and technologies we use today were established more than 30 years ago." UPLC is based in part on studies of ultra-high-pressure LC separations by Jorgenson's group and that of professor of chemistry and biochemistry Milton L. Lee of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
The second-place silver winner of this year's Pittcon Editors' Awards was another chromatographic product, the Optilab rEX refractive-index (RI) HPLC detector from Wyatt Technology. The Optilab rEX (refractometer with EXtended range) "is an RI detector with 256 times the detection power and up to 50 times the dynamic range of every RI detector in existence today," according to the company.
Other introductions that Jorgenson believed to be particularly noteworthy include the following:
◾ A future LC-capable microfluidic system called the Chip-LC, from Agilent, is said to be "the first microfluidic chip-based device that can carry out HPLC." It will enable sample preparation, reactions, and separation to be carried out on a single chip. MS detection of the effluent also will be possible.
◾ The Veloce Micro Parallel LC system, from Nanostream, enables 24 simultaneous separations and real-time UV detection, allowing fast analysis of multiple samples.
◾ SLS Micro Technology's GCM 5000, "the world's smallest GC module," according to the company, is a 3- x 2-inch device that can analyze gas composition within 60 seconds and operate continuously on batteries for months.
◾ Varian's CP-4900 Micro-GC, with a differential mobility detector, "is the first system of its kind that can accurately select multiple target components out of coeluting peaks in a single analysis run," according to the firm.
ELECTROCHEMISTRY. Chemistry professor Stephen E. Creager of Clemson University, who specializes in electrochemistry, commented that one thing that caught his eye at Pittcon 2004 was the ED703 electrochemical HPLC detector from GL Sciences, which uses an electrically conductive diamond electrode. "Diamond electrodes have been around for 10 years or so, and their advantages relative to things like glassy carbon are well understood--wide potential range, rapid settling time, excellent resistance to fouling, and resistance to oxidative degradation," Creager said. "To my knowledge, GL Sciences is the first company to make such a detector commercially available. I see a good future for this product."
Creager also noted that Antec Leyden "has for a while marketed a very fine amperometric electrochemical detector targeted at the neuroscience market, and this year the company expanded it" into the Alexys 100 LC-EC System by including "a full LC unit optimized for electrochemical detection."
Creager observed that several electrochemical instrument companies didn't seem to be exhibiting at Pittcon this year--including Pine Instrument, Gamry Instruments, Solartron Analytical, Princeton Applied Research, and Bioanalytical Systems. However, a number of others did display their wares, including Nova Analytics, ESA, and CH Instruments--in addition to GL Sciences and Antec Leyden. And a marketing manager at one of the missing companies told C&EN that his company was thinking about returning to Pittcon in the near future because the market is beginning to pick up.
NMR. At Pittcon 2004, Bruker BioSpin announced a new NMR magnet that sets a new field-strength record (700 MHz) for the company's actively shielded wide-bore magnet product line. Still, new NMR products and NMR technical symposia have generally been on the sparse side at recent Pittcons. "I think it is likely that NMR spectroscopists tend to choose to go to the ENC [Experimental NMR Conference], where NMR companies tend to make their major announcements, rather than more general analytical conferences" like Pittcon, said professor of chemistry and biochemistry Cecil Dybowski of the University of Delaware, a specialist in NMR spectroscopy of solid and solidlike materials.
"Interestingly, the ENC was an outgrowth of the Pittsburgh Conference," Dybowski noted. "Around 1960, it was established as a pre-Pittcon get-together of NMR spectroscopists attending the conference, just to talk about common NMR problems. As the community grew, the ENC no longer coordinated with Pittcon on its venue or time. Many people in industry can only attend a single national meeting, and NMR spectroscopists now often opt to go to the ENC rather than Pittcon. To a lesser degree, this may be true for mass spectrometrists as well, who have the annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry meeting."
Senior technical specialist Neal R. Dando of Alcoa Technical Center, in Alcoa Center, Pa.--an NMR spectroscopist who used to attend ENC and is now a member of the Pittcon organizing committee--said he is "one of a few folks who have worked to emphasize NMR on the Pittcon program." However, he agreed with Dybowski that "getting NMR symposia for Pittcon is a challenge, since many of the choice folks head to the ENC."
INFORMATICS. Chemical informatics developments at Pittcon 2004 included a number of new products in the LIMS area, a new version of the Advanced Chemistry Development (ACD/Labs) software suite (for analytical chemistry, chemical naming, structure drawing, and other functions), and an Internet-based client-server platform from Bio-Rad Laboratories' Informatics Division for rapid searching of the company's KnowItAll spectral databases.
A major informatics trend this year was increased integration of diverse components in scientific information systems, according to associate professor of informatics Sam Milosevich of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. For example, a new version of SQL*LIMS from Applied Biosystems incorporates "management of operational equipment supplies and validation of training records for operational staff," Milosevich said. Proteomics RIMS from Bruker Daltonics and Bruker AXS combines and integrates proteomics information from MS and X-ray crystallographic studies. And Metabolic Profiler from Bruker BioSpin and Bruker Daltonics combines NMR and time-of-flight MS data into an integrated data and model-building system for drug development.
Another trend in the field, Milosevich pointed out, is the proliferation of Web-based applications--"software that has a true zero footprint, requiring no end-user software other than a network connection and a Web browser."
MASS SPEC. For chemistry professor Richard A. Yost of the University of Florida, a specialist in analytical mass spectrometry, developments in the MS area at this year's Pittcon were less than exciting. "Most of the mass spec people I asked thought it was a pretty boring show for new MS instruments," he remarked.
However, Yost did find one introduction to be interesting: Thermo Electron's Finnigan vMALDI ("vacuum" matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization) ion source, an enhancement to the Finnigan LTQ linear ion trap mass spectrometer for accelerating proteomics studies. According to Yost, "It's the first commercial subatmospheric pressure MALDI source out there for ion traps. Several research groups have shown that performing MALDI at intermediate pressures (0.1–10 torr) reduces the internal energy of MALDI-produced ions, reducing fragmentation, which is particularly important for labile biological species, such as gangliosides and lipids." The vMALDI unit accomplishes this and thus "could have a real impact on the way people do MALDI," Yost said.
Neil L. Kelleher, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who specializes in MS-based proteomics research, said emerging trends in the MS field include the use of MS to analyze intact (as opposed to protease-digested) proteins and the recent advent of a new generation of FT hybrid mass spectrometers that make these studies more feasible. Such instruments have an ion trap or quadrupole unit that filters ions, which then go into the instrument's FT unit. This eases proteomics studies by facilitating the selective accumulation of interesting ions and by permitting measurements with greater mass accuracy. "The most successful recent launch," Kelleher said, is Thermo Electron's Finnigan LTQ FT hybrid mass spectrometer. "If you look at the numbers of sales, that instrument is doing extremely well for such a high-end box."
Next year, with Pittcon taking place in balmy Orlando, Fla., organizers no doubt are hoping that the analytical instrument industry, as well as next year's exposition and registration figures, will be basking in the sun.