2012 Review of Spectroscopic Instrumentation at Pittcon

May 01, 2012
Volume 27, Issue 5

As usual, there was concern at the 63rd Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon 2012) about how well the conference is doing. Although this reviewer heard casual comments about how the show appeared smaller and the aisles less crowded, other comments by some exhibitors indicated good attendance at their booths, and "quality" leads from those attendees who stopped in.

Despite these comments, we can only go by the figures. The total cumulative attendance was 15,754 as compared to the final 2011 attendance of 17,199. A breakdown of the attendance by attendee type and a comparison with previous Pittcons can be found at: http://www.pittcon.org/exhibitors/attendstats.php.

Here are some other attendance figures from information given on the Pittcon website and from e-mails they distributed:

  • Exhibiting companies: 948
  • Booths: 1854
  • Exhibiting companies from outside the US: 191
  • Number of countries: 28
  • First-time exhibitors: 119
  • Companies participating at sponsorship level: 6
  • Individual presentations in the technical program (including posters): 2000
  • Invited speakers: >100
  • Short courses: 95
  • Short course registrants: 1400

Some of the large, previously stalwart, instrument companies were notable by their absence or by their presence in only a nominal way. Countering that effect were many new small exhibitor companies (completely new or just new to Pittcon — see above). By most accounts, these smaller companies are the source of most innovation in any technology, so the attendance decrease is not the whole story. I try to find all of those new companies to include here, because nurturing new small companies is an important function of such things as this review (and of Pittcon itself, to be sure).

Over the years, long-time attendees note the arrival and departures of trends (or "fashions") in the instruments and booths seen. I remember when going to my first Pittcon (I won't say when that was, but you can guess from my comments) that I was impressed by the fact that just about every booth contained an oscilloscope, for displaying some results or other; that was the fashion at the time. Now, I understand that the fashion is based on the marketing consideration of being perceived as the company keeping up with the latest technology. Those oscilloscopes eventually faded from view, to be replaced by calculators (computers as such were still in the future); and then still more recently, of course, computers and other electronic displays became ubiquitous.

Early on, the acceptance of these new devices increased slowly. Their capabilities were limited; the personal computer (PC) (which at that time meant the units from Commodore, Amiga, Apple, and a few other small manufacturers) were not exactly impressive, and their cost was relatively high. Furthermore, they were not entirely trusted. Until the advent of the IBM PC, what that average person (or scientist) in the street knew about computers was largely based on dramatic (and dramatized) news stories about how some (mainframe) computer or other used in a payroll application would reward some lucky person with a multimillion dollar paycheck when figuring out their deductions and net pay. This did not inspire a whole lot of confidence in those "newfangled devices"!

Eventually, of course, the IBM PC did come on the scene. That, plus the appearance of the Macintosh computer (from Apple), gave small computers credibility among the business and academic markets. This, aided by their greater capabilities and the development of better software, led to their more widespread acceptance as auxiliaries to scientific instruments (with corresponding prominence at Pittcon), and their current position in the industry. However, those are also fading to some extent now, because the controlling computers are being incorporated into the electronics of the instruments themselves, rather than being separate devices.

Despite this trend, there remains the need for users to interact with and control the instrument. I think that at Pittcon 2012 we saw the start of the next new trend (or fashion) in instrumentation in this regard: the incipient use of cell phones and tablet computers as the controlling devices for the instrument. Because of the practical effect that the control link is wireless, these seem likely to become more prominent and widespread. As such, everything will be controlled by the latest new paradigm of computerdom: "There's an app for that!"

An ongoing development for the last several years, of course, has been the decreasing size of instrumentation. This trend is continuing, with technologies that previously required multiton devices now able to be held in the palm of your hand. We will be pointing out some of these.

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