Wavelength Tech Forum: Pittcon Roundtable

Mar 23, 2006
By Spectroscopy Editors

The excitement of Pittcon is barely over, and many of us, at our desks or lab benches, might be mulling over the events of that week. Are you curious to hear what others thought of Pittcon 2006? In this month's Tech Forum, participants discuss the conference, the changes it has undergone over the years, and offer their opinions for improving it in the future. This month's forum members include Howard Mark of the consulting service Mark Electronics and a member of Spectroscopy's Editorial Advisory Board; Robert Thomas, principal consultant at Scientific Solutions; Anthony Nip, who is with CambridgeSoft Corporation and is also a member of Spectroscopy's Editorial Advisory Board; and Ray Kaminski, vice president of the fluorescence group at HORIBA Jobin Yvon.

What was your impression of Pittcon 2006?

Mark: Pittcon this year was not as crowded, noisy, and exciting as I've remembered it being in the past, when you sometimes had to push your way through the aisles. On the other hand, I think I've seen it even less crowded in the past.

Thomas: I always enjoy Pittcon because it allows me to network. And in my business as a consultant and scientific writer, this is very important. But my impression was that it was not as well attended as last year.

Nip: I thought Pittcon 2006 met the show organizers' expectations. On that basis, I thought it was a successful show.

Kaminski: It was smaller and less impressive than any other conference before it. Also, the leads, as is usual for Orlando, were none too exciting.

How do you think this year's conference compared to last year's? How did it compare to others you've been to in recent years?

Mark: Last year's conference was maybe about the same. In previous years, the low point was probably about 2-4 years ago. Before that, Pittcon was almost a party. Some booths literally had a magician, a band, etc. I guess it's too much to expect it to return to those glory days in only a couple of years after such doldrums as we've had. However, companies are increasing the amount of giveaways and other goodies. There was a time when you could starve to death on the exhibit floor; this year there was a lot of candy and food available (besides the Pittcon apples). It doesn't seem like much, but I think it's these little things that tell how the companies, and thus the industry, is doing: a lot of little companies, each feeling secure enough to give away stuff is more important than one big company giving away a car (except to the winner of the car, of course!).

Thomas: I have my reservations about Orlando, because many people come primarily to visit Disney World with their family. The convention center/exhibition was deserted most afternoons and on the last day. I like it when it is in Chicago, because you know the delegates come for one reason.

Nip: Compared to last year, I think the attendance level was a bit lower. Overall, the attendees did enjoy the conference. In particular, I think the mixers on the exhibit floor and the availability of free wi-fi access were excellent ideas. I hope that Pittcon organizers will continue to sponsor the mixers and free wi-fi at future conferences.

Some people reported disappointment with this year's turnout. What is your opinion?

Thomas: I go to Pittcon primarily to teach a short course. This year, I had a good turnout - 25 compared to 16 last year. But the turnout was not as good as it was in Chicago, where I had 32 people.

Nip: Orlando is an attractive location for conferences, especially as a destination for attendees. I spoke with some exhibitors who felt there were too many outside distractions in Orlando, which impacted the overall traffic in the exhibit hall. But I think that instead of looking at the cumulative attendance levels, exhibitors need to look at the quality of leads obtained while at the conference. Everyone is painfully aware of the attendance slump since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. So all the scientists, managers, and decision makers that attended Pittcon 2006 really wanted to attend. Pittcon 2007 will be held in Chicago. The wintry climate and the location of the convention center should minimize outside distractions and effectively provide a captive audience to the exhibitors.

Did you see many new products this year? Which ones did you think were more exciting than others?

Mark: Of the ones I saw, one impressed me: the multi-modal multiplex spectrometer from Centice.

Thomas: I focus on atomic spectroscopy and ICP-MS products. There was not much new in these areas.

Nip: Congratulations to all Pittcon 2006 Editors' Award nominees and winners. As a software person, I am always drawn to new software applications and technologies that can benefit the spectroscopy community. I was especially intrigued by Cerno Bioscience's MassWorks product, the winner of the Bronze Editors' Award. It may very well represent an enabling technology that will have a significant impact in the world of mass spectrometry.

How would you rate the oral sessions, posters, and short courses? Were the sessions as comprehensive as they should have been?

Mark: I heard several people say the rooms for the oral sessions seemed empty. The sessions I went to seemed to confirm that, they were not above about 20 percent capacity, as an estimate.

Thomas: I didn't attend many oral sessions, because of time restrictions. Clearly the technical program is getting dominated by life science, pharmaceutical, clinical and medical subject matter, and less with traditional analytical chemistry topics.

Nip: I feel the sessions were comprehensive for a conference the size of Pittcon. The sessions were certainly well attended. I spoke with an author whose presentation was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. He had expected light attendance for the session, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the session was very well attended - especially for a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in Orlando.

Kaminski: The posters and sessions were better than usual. Too bad this doesn't get translated to next year's attendance.

What do you think could be changed to make Pittcon better in 2007?

Mark: I read the 2007 general chair's write-up about plans for fighting the general trend of conferences losing attendance. Without knowing much about organizing conferences, they seemed to make sense to me. So I'd say that there isn't much more we can do than execute those plans and see what happens (and cross our fingers?). It would help for interested people to contact SSP and SACP and see how they can assist.

Thomas: The conference shouldn't go back to Orlando for a while. I think it's detrimental to a good consistent turnout everyday of the exposition.

Nip: The Pittcon 2007 organizers should continue to develop ideas to attract traffic into the exhibit hall. It was a great idea for Pittcon to sponsor mixers on the exhibit floor this year, and I would like to see this at future conferences. The organizers should continue to allow exhibitors to serve snacks and beverages at their booths. In addition to maintaining the quality of the technical program, the Pittcon organizers should continue to attract more exhibitors to increase the size of the exposition.

Kaminski: Move it out of Orlando, of course. It should never come back. We have great hopes for Chicago, as that is the best we can remember.

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