‘Fast’ and ‘compact’ highlight Pittcon ’08

NEW ORLEANS, LA—A trip to the “Big Easy” may evoke images of slower, more genteel times, but Pittcon 2008, held March 1–7 at the massive Ernest N.

NEW ORLEANS, LA—A trip to the “Big Easy” may evoke images of slower, more genteel times, but Pittcon 2008, held March 1–7 at the massive Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, did its best to showcase the latest advances in size and speed of advanced microscopy and spectroscopy systems. More than 1100 companies from 85 countries displayed their wares in the 1.1 million square-foot exhibit hall; total attendance was about 18,000.

The conference featured more than 2000 papers and posters covering everything from bioanalytical chemistry and biomedicine to neurochemistry, polymer science, informatics, nanotechnology, applied molecular spectroscopy, environmental chemistry, and forensic analysis. Hot topics included Fourier transform infared (FTIR) imaging and Raman spectroscopy for a broad spectrum of applications, plus a special symposium on using analytical techniques (optical and otherwise) to assess biodiesel quality.

Things got off to a great start Sunday afternoon at the plenary presentation given by Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology (Seattle, WA) and an award-winning pioneer in the field of DNA sequencing. Over the last 40 years Hood’s research has focused on fundamental biology and on bringing engineering to biology. He helped develop DNA and protein sequencers and synthesizers and the ink-jet oligonucleotide synthesizer for making DNA arrays—five instruments that provided the technological foundation for modern molecular biology and genomics and for which he was honored the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology in 2002.

Hood’s talk at Pittcon focused on the increasing role of spectroscopy, microscopy, and related technologies in systems biology and the emerging field of “systems medicine.” He believes that systems medicine, together with advances in DNA sequencing and blood-protein measurements at the nano scale and new computational and mathematical tools, will transform medical care and the entire healthcare industry over the next 5–20 years.

“Biology is one of the dominant sciences in the 21st century. It will transform many aspects of society in fundamental ways, and systems biology in particular will impact other sciences such as engineering,” he said. “If you understand networks you can re-engineer them, and this will have an important impact on the treatment of disease in the future.”

Smaller, faster, even cheaper

Down on the show floor, there were a number of new products that are poised to help enable Hood’s vision by making “high-end” spectroscopic and microscopic easier to use and more cost effective—and thus more appealing to a broader user base. DeltaNu (Laramie, WY), for example, introduced what it claims is the world’s smallest Raman spectrometer, the ReporteR. The palm-sized, 11-oz. system is designed for rapid identification of illicit drugs, explosives, plastics, and industrial chemicals.

Ahura Scientific (Wilmington, MA) is also targeting the field-based chemical identification market with its TruDefender FT product, a 3-lb. palm-sized FTIR system introduced at Pittcon optimized for hazmat and military applications. Vying for the title of smallest spectrometer at Pittcon was the Exoscan FTIR spectrophotometer from A2 Technologies (Danbury, CT). Designed to move spectroscopy out of the laboratory and into the field, the Exoscan weighs less than 7 lbs and is designed for non-destructive on-site surface and bulk analysis applications such as analyzing composite aircraft wings. Controlled and operated via a PDA device, the Exoscan features interchangeable internal reflectance and external reflectance sampling interfaces and is intended for sampling a variety of materials including solids, pastes, gels, and liquids.

“For decades FTIR spectroscopy has been a powerful analytical tool but it has primarily been used for laboratory use due to its size, complexity, and lack of instrument stability,” said Jon Frattaroli, CEO of A2 Technologies. “The Exoscan is about to change the way FTIR is used across the chemical industry and a number of other industries as well.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific (Waltham, MA) also made a splash with two new compact, modular lab-based products: the DXR Raman microscope and the DXR SmartRaman spectrometer. The DXR Raman microscope is designed to help non-specialist users achieve rapid sampling and analysis of particles, down to 1 micron spatial resolution, while the DXR SmartRaman spectrometer is intended specifically for quality-control lab-based applications.

On the business front, Agilent announced that it is acquiring TILL Photonics GmbH (Munich, Germany) and has completed the acquisition of Colloidal Dynamics. TILL Photonics develops and markets innovative life science products for fluorescence microscopy. The acquisition will complement Agilent’s atomic force microscope platform and is consistent with Agilent’s strategy of providing customers with comprehensive workflow solutions. The acquisition of privately held Colloidal Dynamics enables Agilent to have a complementary suite of particle-analysis solutions to materials science customers in the polymer, specialty chemical, inks/pigments, food, pharmaceutical, and materials research markets.—Kathy Kincade

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