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Weathering The Crisis

Some instrument vendors skipped Pittcon 2009, but more than 19,000 attendees did not

by Stuart A. Borman
March 30, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 13

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

WITH A WORLD economic crisis in full tilt, one might have expected that the 2009 Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon) in Chicago would be a dismal affair, with companies deserting the exposition floor en masse and attendees from financially challenged employers deferring attendance.

Yes, some exhibitors skipped Pittcon earlier this month. And yes, not as many attendees showed up as might have in better times. But Pittcon 2009 weathered the storm rather nicely.

In preliminary figures available at C&EN's press time, total Pittcon 2009 registration (conferees and exhibitors) was 19,097. This reflects a slow and steady decline from record years in the 1990s, when total attendance peaked at more than 34,000. But surprisingly, this year's total is just 2% less than it was in 2008, when attendance was 19,536.

Pittcon 2009

Analytics For Fuel Cells
New tools to prove degradation will help design of longer lasting devices.

Advanced Detectors Take The Stage
Hybrid technologies combine strengths to improve photon and ion detectors.

Shining Light On Art
Conservators use intense light sources for everything from characterizing pigments to removing lichens.

Food Analysis Gets A Boost
New methods offer simpler, faster, more convenient ways to characterize food.

New And Notable At Pittcon
Scientific instrumentation and more.

Pittcon Awards 2009
Researchers receive honors for achievements in analytical chemistry and applied spectroscopy.

Compared with 2008, the number of conferees (nonexhibitor attendees) was actually up 7% this year to 11,452. "Where we are experiencing a decline is in exhibitor attendance," said Marian Nardozzi, Pittcon's marketing communications specialist. The number of exhibitor representatives attending the meeting fell 14% from 2008 to 7,645 this year.

Among companies that skipped this year's meeting are Varian and Mettler-Toledo. In lieu of participating as an exhibitor at Pittcon, Varian is hosting an online event starting April 2 at One problem Mettler-Toledo has with Pittcon is that the company has fewer customers in traditional Pittcon locations such as Chicago and Orlando than in other areas such as the Northeast. Mettler-Toledo officials also believe the company could benefit more from the meeting if it were held every other year, like Analytica, in Munich, and the Beijing Conference & Exhibition on Instrumental Analysis.

At Pittcon 2009, Bruker President and CEO Frank H. Laukien announced that his company will now exhibit at Pittcon only in odd-numbered years. "We'd love for Pittcon to be held in San Francisco, New Jersey, and Boston," where there are higher concentrations of Bruker customers, he said. "And if that means the conference needs to shrink 20 to 30%, we think that would make for a better show." Bruker, like Mettler-Toledo, also would prefer that Pittcon be held half as often—every other year.

"We've been hosting Pittcon in Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Orlando because, until recently, they were the only cities that had facilities that could accommodate an event as large as Pittcon," said Edward P. Ladner Jr., president of Pittcon 2009. "Philadelphia will be completing a major expansion to its conference center by 2011, and we have already made arrangements to host Pittcon there in 2013." He added that Pittcon's policy is to maintain its annual frequency.

JUST AS PITTCON is weathering the economic doldrums, the instrument business it serves also seems to be navigating these tight times rather well. "The analytical instrument industry tends to have it a bit easier than some other industries in economic downturns," said Stefan Fritsch, an analyst who edits and publishes the industry newsletter Instrument News. "People will continue to measure things."

Suppliers of process-analysis instrumentation may see more adverse effects from the economic slowdown as manufacturing output declines, but businesses in heavily regulated industries, such as food and beverage firms, will continue to use and purchase analytical instruments to meet regulatory requirements, Fritsch said. "As far as academic research goes, stimulus packages announced in the U.S. and Europe should ensure that instrument demand continues to grow," he added.

Lawrence S. Schmid, president and CEO of the instrument industry market research firm Strategic Directions International (SDI), based in Los Angeles, said: "The last few months of 2008 took the edge off what was basically a good, upbeat market for instrumentation and related supplies and service. Likewise, the next quarter or two will probably be underwhelming. But modest growth for 2009 is expected—basically 5%, which is what we saw in 2008. While not particularly exciting, this is pretty spectacular compared with some industry sectors."

"Most directly, the economy has impacted the replacement market for routine equipment such as gas chromatographs, of which companies can defer purchases," added Tanya Samazan, managing editor of Instrument Business Outlook , an SDI publication. "Higher end products that provide a clear improvement in productivity or enable new applications, such as new mass spectrometry systems, are faring better in the market."

Many analytical and laboratory instrument manufacturers choose to introduce their newest products at Pittcon's instrument exposition each year. Media representatives attending Pittcon nominate and vote on the new products they believe are most noteworthy and give Editors' Awards to the winners. Innov-X Systems' Terra, a portable combination X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction system designed specifically for rock and mineral analysis, won this year's first-place Gold Editors' Award.

The Silver Editors' Award went to the iTOC-CRDS, a turnkey analyzer from Picarro and OI Analytical that measures total organic carbon and carbon stable-isotope ratios. The instrument oxidizes carbon to generate carbon dioxide, which is then measured by cavity ringdown spectroscopy. It's used to analyze food to determine origin or detect adulteration and to study soils, sediments, and plant materials.

Inner Workings
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Source (from left), sample stage, and silicon strip detector from Bruker AXS's D2 Phaser benchtop X-ray diffraction system, introduced at this year's Pittcon.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Source (from left), sample stage, and silicon strip detector from Bruker AXS's D2 Phaser benchtop X-ray diffraction system, introduced at this year's Pittcon.

And the Bronze Editors' Award went to Shimadzu's IG-1000 particle size analyzer, which uses a technique called induced grafting to measure nanoparticles rapidly and with high sensitivity and reproducibility.

Major introductions of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy instruments are rarely made at Pittcon, but this year Bruker BioSpin made an exception by announcing its new 263-GHz Avance Solid-State DNP-NMR spectrometer. It's the first commercial solid-state NMR system that uses dynamic nuclear polarization (C&EN, Oct. 27, 2008, page 12) to enhance sensitivity, the company said, and it enables researchers to study samples available in limited amounts or at dilute concentrations that would normally be inaccessible to NMR.

EACH YEAR, C&EN asks researchers in the fields of atomic and molecular spectroscopy, chromatography, and mass spectrometry to comment on Pittcon instrument introductions and trends they found to be especially worthy. In atomic spectroscopy this year, chemistry professor Julian Tyson of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, saw improvements in detection capability, spatial resolution, and portability in handheld XRF spectrometers introduced by Innov-X (the award-winning Terra), Bruker, Edax, Spectro Analytical Instruments, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Arc and spark emission spectrometers are mature instruments in which there have not been great improvements recently. Even so, Tyson remarked, these tools continue to be useful for quickly determining the elemental composition of unknown samples. He noted two introductions that help bring these instruments a bit more up-to-date. Channel photomultiplier detection and high stability in Bruker's Q8 Magellan spark emission spectrometer help give it better detection limits than previous designs, and a new spark stand and detection system in the Prodigy DC Arc spectrometer from Teledyne Leeman Labs allow it to measure strong and weak lines simultaneously and carry out accurate internal standardization, Tyson said.

Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) instruments have traditionally suffered from detection-limit problems for some elements of environmental relevance and for samples with high levels of dissolved solids. Moreover, several-minute analysis times are generally required. Tyson noted that redesigned sample introduction systems—such as the Niagara II Plus from Glass Expansion, the DSA-7 from CETAC Technologies, and the OneFAST from Elemental Scientific (which was introduced last year)—help address these limitations. "All provide at least a factor-of-two improvement in throughput," Tyson said.

"As far as academic research goes, stimulus packages announced in the U.S. and Europe should ensure that instrument demand continues to grow."

Elemental Scientific's new DuoFAST system uses solid-phase extraction to preconcentrate samples, helping to improve ICP-OES detection limits by up to 20 times, Tyson said. He noted that the DuoFAST takes advantage of the ability of modern ICP-OES spectrometers to process transient signals, a feature that also allows chromatographic detection for speciation studies.

IN MOLECULAR spectroscopy, two novel sensor devices were introduced at this year's show, said associate professor Garth J. Simpson of Purdue University. Stratophase launched SpectroSens, an instrument in which an optical silicon chip measures refractive index changes in liquids to determine reaction kinetics. Sensing is based on the transmission of light through a small optical fiber to an in-chip grating. SpectroSens "offers some distinct practical advantages over alternative commercial systems for refractive-index-based detection, particularly for optical-fiber-based remote-sensing and process-monitoring applications," Simpson said.

And BiOptix launched the BiOptix 207B, an array molecular-interaction analysis instrument "based on the detection of changes in the polarization of light upon reflection from a metal-coated surface," Simpson said. The 207B can be used for nucleic acid sensing, whole-pathogen detection, and studies of protein binding and glycan complexation. "The sensitivity of the optical configuration represents an improvement over surface-plasmon-resonance-based instruments," which have similar uses, he said.

In mass spectrometry this year, Thermo Fisher's introduction of a benchtop liquid chromatography-MS system based on the company's Orbitrap mass analyzer platform "jumped out at me," said C&EN's MS adviser, Jennifer S. Brodbelt, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. "The Orbitrap has made a huge splash in the past couple of years, with its high resolution and accurate mass capabilities that have rivaled FT-ICR-MS [Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance MS] performance, and it is truly exciting to see this technology incorporated into a user-friendly LC-MS system," she said.

In addition, the reported resolution of Bruker Daltonics' maXis, an electrospray ultra-high-resolution tandem time-of-flight (TOF) mass spectrometer, "is very impressive, especially given that it is achieved over a wide mass range with very good accuracy," Brodbelt said. "This could be quite useful for numerous biological applications."

Chromatography advisers for C&EN this year were Nicholas H. Snow and Yuri V. Kazakevich, chair and professor, respectively, of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Seton Hall University.

"Release of a PTV-GC [programmed-temperature vaporization gas chromatography] inlet from Agilent, a multidimensional GC instrument from Shimadzu, and a GC-TOF system from JEOL represent a continuation of a trend toward incremental improvements in GC over the past 10 years," Snow said. "Generally, these advanced capabilities have been available as costly and complex add-ons to traditional GCs," he said, "but they are now available in simple turnkey systems that are accessible to mainstream scientists, not just hard-core chromatographers."

By allowing cold injection and backflushing of samples, Agilent's new Multimode GC inlet, which includes PTV capability, "greatly reduces the sample and column degradation that often accompany traditional hot-injection techniques," Snow explained. The inlet is priced about $2,500 less than the company's previous design. "Although PTV inlets were invented 30 years ago and were already available from a number of vendors, high cost and complexity have limited their use," Snow said. "Hopefully, this new inlet will prove simpler and less expensive."

MULTIDIMENSIONAL GC capability is used for improving separating power. This feature is already offered by many GC vendors, and Snow said he's happy to see Shimadzu adopt it as well in its new Multi-Dimensional Gas Chromatograph system.

And TOF-MS "is probably the most powerful detector for GC, offering rapid detection, sensitive quantitation, and structure determination," Snow said. He pointed out that JEOL is not the first vendor to offer a GC-TOF-MS system, but he's pleased to see extension of this capability to another supplier.

Snow and Kazakevich were also enthusiastic about an effort at this year's Pittcon to standardize chromatographic instrument hardware and software into plug-and-play systems that can be used interchangeably, whereas users currently must purchase instruments and software together from single vendors. At Pittcon, Tony J. Owen, director of lab informatics marketing at Agilent, based in Waldbronn, Germany, hosted a meeting of chromatography instrument and software suppliers to assess interest in launching an industry-wide initiative to develop new standards.

"This is a very important initiative," Kazakevich said, because some chromatography companies have better software and others have better hardware; standardization would enable users to select the best of both.

"With a common communications standard, scientists will save the large amount of time and effort they currently expend in connecting incompatible instruments and data systems, leaving them more time to focus on science rather than instrument communication," Snow added.


At the suppliers' meeting, Owen said, the group voted "to form a small steering committee to think through the different options and communicate back on what they would propose as the best way to move forward." Owen believes such standardization could eventually be extended beyond chromatography to other types of analytical instruments as well.


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