ISA AD Spring Symposium turns 50

With more than 250 significant petrochemical and refining facilities within commuting distance, Houston is the epicenter of the process analyzer universe.

By Terrence K. McMahon

THE ANALYSIS DIVISION (AD) has held ISA’s Outstanding Automation & Technology Division Award for so long the AD Directors breathe a sigh of relief when their tenures end with the skein intact. Current Director Roy Muston (Shell Global Solutions) passes the baton to Mike Chaney (Equistar) at ISA/2006. The count is now 12 (1993–2004) consecutive awards.

This year’s AD Spring Symposium (Houston, April 10–14) was number 50 in a series that began in 1955 as Gas Chromatography Seminars held annually at Michigan State University. These were pioneering technology exchanges attended by such chromatography luminaries as Golay, Adlard, Desty, Ettre, Halasz, Horning, Karmen, Lovelock, Sternberg and Martin. The Division also initiated a series of process analyzer short courses covering the principal analytical techniques as well as sample system design and operation and other implementation technologies.

In the summer of 1974, I attended an ISA Seminar on process spectroscopy taught by Bob Saltzman (DuPont Instruments) and Bill Dailey (MSA). I was initiating a market research study of process control applications for second-derivative UV-Vis spectroscopy and my client wanted to ensure that I started with a solid foundation. The technology (2D spectroscopy) allowed molecules lacking a clear response band in the UV to be accurately and quantitatively determined. Being early in the digital electronic era (the Intel 8080 microprocessor having been announced in February 1974), the derivative spectrum was produced by an opto-mechanical apparatus which I never quite understood. Vastly improved designs are now feasible and derivative spectroscopy occupies an important niche. In many instances, ISA’s Analysis Division provided a technical springboard for advances in process analyzer design and real-world industrial application methods.

The first formal ISA AD Spring Symposia that I can remember attending were in Boston in 1985 and Cleveland in 1986. In the last 10 years, AD symposia have been in nine locations with Houston being host in 2001 as well as this year. Calgary was the host city in 2003 underlining the “I” in ISA. Who can forget “Thunder over Louisville” in 2004?  Next year’s AD Spring Symposium will be held in Anaheim and Muston has promised to surround himself with a bevy of Hollywood starlets for the opening ceremony.

The speaker at the Tuesday Banquet was Jerry Woodfill, flight control warning systems engineer for the Apollo 13 Mission. Woodfill received the message: “Houston, we’ve had a problem” when an oxgen tank exploded at 9:00 p.m. on April 13, 1970. Woodfill, a former ISA Houston Section member, vividly described the harrowing and improbable rescue of the crew and spacecraft. He was among those who shared the Presidential Medal of Freedom honoring the Apollo 13’s Mission Operations Team. 

The technical program highlighted the impact of environmental regulations, particularly those for HR VOCs (highly-reactive volatile organic compounds) and sulfur in motor fuels, as current drivers for process analyzer activity in the Houston area. With more than 250 significant petrochemical and refining facilities within commuting distance, Houston is the epicenter of the process analyzer universe from both an economic and a technology development perspective.

Fourteen technical sessions included more than 30 individual papers. Topics covered analytical technologies (physical properties, spectroscopy, gas detection, liquid analyzers), environmental applications (CEMS, water quality), sample systems, analyzer system commissioning, analyzer networking/communications and process optimization. Wendy Buskop, former chief legal officer of a major petrochemical firm and now in private practice (Buskop Law Group), discussed the nuances of patentability and other forms of intellectual property protection.

A tutorial on Enhanced Laser Diode Spectroscopy by Lee Richmond (Senscient Ltd., Wareham, UK) was awarded top prize in the Gilson-Thomason-Fowler best symposium paper competition. Other awardees included Patrick Lowry of Flow Matrix (Carlsbad, CA) andChang-Dong Feng of Emerson Process Mgmt (Irvine, CA).

AD membership has been stalled at just under 950 for the last few years, down from 1100-plus five or six years ago. Sharply reduced operating staffing is undoubtedly the culprit, but with the proliferation of analyzer service firms potential members abound. Urge your management to let you participate in the many networking and educational opportunities provided by the Analysis Division. The symposium proceedings are available on a CD. Contact ISA’s Analysis Division or its director, Roy Muston.

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


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