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Pittcon: A Real Cover Story

by Ivan Amato
February 23, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 8


Pittcon: A Real Cover Story

For 28 years, Roy Engelbrecht, a former biology and chemistry teacher at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, has been photographing the iconic and gargantuan conference about analytical chemistry that readers of C&EN and chemists around the world know and love as Pittcon. This year, the conference celebrates its 60th anniversary, a milestone that C&EN celebrates with a chronicle of the conference by historian David Brock, a senior research fellow with the Philadelphia-based Chemical Heritage Foundation's Center for Contemporary History and Policy. We also celebrate it with an exclusive on-line feature that Engelbrecht has made possible. By photographing or scanning every single one of the conference's program covers beginning with the first one in 1950, he has provided web designer Tchad Blair the means to create a unique documentary portrait of Pittcon. The covers' styles, production values, and imagery reflect the changing times as well as the recent history of analytical chemistry.

When Engelbrecht first started work as the conference's official photographer, he wanted to please his new employer badly enough that he dragged a portable dark room,quite chemistry-intensive at the time,with him so that he could develop his film and make prints available within 24 hours. Even in subsequent years when his job was secure, he went the extra mile with white-knuckle ascents into a makeshift booth 160 feet above the Atlantic City Convention Center floor to get full perspectives on the Expo when Pittcon was held in that city. Just about a decade ago, Engelbrecht bought his first digital camera, a 6 megapixel model that he purchased used for whopping $13 thousand. "My wife almost killed me," he notes, referring to Linda Engelbrecht, who helps run her husband's photography business. She also had a hand in designing several of the covers, including the 1986 cover, which honors the crew of astronauts lost in that year's shuttle disaster.


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