PITTCON/2005: Good meeting, bad place

Around the Loop columnist Terrence K. McMahon reports on the 56th Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, along with its companion Exhibit of Modern Laboratory Equipment (PITTCON/2005).

By Terrence K. McMahon

THE 56TH PITTSBURGH Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, along with its companion Exhibit of Modern Laboratory Equipment (PITTCON/2005), convened in Orlando’s new convention facility in late February and early March, 2005. Early on, the technical papers were the principal attraction of the meeting with the exhibits pretty much an afterthought, delegated to the hallways and side rooms of the main conference hotel.

Beginning in the late ‘60s, about the time that the conference moved to Cleveland, Ohio, the exhibits began to assume a growing role. Fast forward to this year were more than 1,100 companies exhibited and exhibitor personnel accounted for roughly half of the 22,000 registrants. Although the conference has a full-time administrative staff in Pittsburgh (where else?), the bulk of the effort in planning, organizing and implementing the conference and exhibit is still performed by volunteers from the original Pittsburgh-based technical societies that launched this event in 1950.

Though I don’t want to enrage any local boosters, I still feel Orlando is not suitable for business meetings. Sure, some attendees bring their families for an extended stay, but those folks represent only a small fraction of the total attendance. Orlando is set up for holiday visitors, not business visitors. There is no mass transit to and from the airport and opportunities for business entertaining are scattered because everything is so spread out.

The contrast with Chicago is stark where both major airports can be reached by subway and the convention center is served by CTA buses, all in an urban infrastructure. Attendance at the Chicago PITTCONs is always significantly higher (30,000+) than at the Orlando or New Orleans shows, although the latter is a much preferred second venue.

I’m always attracted to the PITTCON Hall of Fame as well. The Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia  www.chemheritage.org) produced a 34-page booklet, “Makers of Modernity,” edited by Declan O’Reilly. It begins with the story of Arnold Beckman’s development of the acidimeter (patented Oct., 1936). Twenty-six individuals (25 men, 1 woman) who have made major contributions to analytical chemistry are profiled. The most senior member of this group, John Townsend Baker (1860–1935), died the same year the most junior member, Robert Allington, was born. Allington, founder of Instrument Specialties Company (ISCO), received the PITTCON Heritage Award for 2005 at this year’s meeting. The whole history of this industry spans only a little more than a century from the founding of the J.T. Baker Chemical Company in Phillipsburg (NJ) in 1902.

PerkinElmer was showing models of its early commercial gas chromatographs. Two were in use at Yale’s Sterling Chemistry Lab in the late 1950s when I was busy with my doctoral research in chemical engineering. I did my gas analyses by wet-chemistry (titration) with a complicated piece of glassware called a Gaillard Bulb, two of which were fabricated by Yale’s glass blower. This method gave me the absolute weight of solute in the gas sample (two liters for lean gas, one for rich gas) from which I could easily calculate the solute mol % in the gas stream. The GC method involved getting a stable baseline (no easy task), developing a response factor, counting the little squares under the peak, and other tasks which seemed only peripherally related to obtaining a gas stream composition. The analytical results, after all, were only tools for determining the mass transfer rate and its dependency on operating parameters (gas and liquid flowrates, carrier gas-solute Schmidt Number, etc.) and other factors. The wet-chemical method seemed more dependable and involved much less risk. The wet-chemical procedure, of course, involved diligence and care to ensure that every drop of solute made it to the titration step but diligence and care are the reasons God invented graduate students.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) remains the workhorse of the biotech industry much as gas chromatography was the workhorse of the emerging petrochemical industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
In many cases, only HPLC can provide a species-specific analysis backed up with a qualitative identification. Rick E. Cooley has been a leading technologist in bringing on-stream analysis to pharmaceutical manufacturing. During his long career at Eli Lilly, Cooley has implemented more than 30 on-stream HPLC systems and many other analysis instruments in biosynthetic insulin production and other biotech processes. He has served as a scientific advisor to PhRMA and other industry-wide associations as well as the FDA. Cooley (Rick.Cooley@dionex.com) recently joined Dionex as director of their Process Applications Center of Excellence.

  About the Author
Terrence K. McMahon of McMahon Technology Associates is the "Around the Loop" columnist for CONTROL magazine and ControlGlobal.com. He can be reached at Mcmahontec135@aol.com.


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