Research News

The 1985 Pittsburgh Conference: A Special Instrumentation Report

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Science  29 Mar 1985:
Vol. 227, Issue 4694, pp. 1565-1569
DOI: 10.1126/science.227.4694.1565


For the first time in its 36 years of operation, the Pittsburgh Conference and Exposition on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy had a sharp drop in attendance—down 16 percent to 20,731. That loss was attributed to the fact that the meeting was held in New Orleans for the first time, and most of the lost attendees were students and young professionals who had previously come for only 1 day. The number of exhibitors and the number of booths, however, were both up about 15 percent, to 730 and 1856, respectively. A large proportion of that increase was contributed by foreign companies exhibiting for the first time, but there were also some well-known names, such as General Electric and Xerox, making first forays into analytical chemistry. There was also a sharp increase in the number and type of instruments displayed. "The key skill now in analytical chemistry," says Perkin-Elmer president Horace McDonell, Jr., "may be simply finding the right tool to obtain the answers you need." The predominant theme of the show, as it has been for the past few years, was automation of both laboratories and instruments. That trend is having major effects in chemical laboratories, but it is also affecting the instrument companies themselves. At large companies such as Varian, Beckman, and Perkin-Elmer, as much as 50 percent of the research and development budget is now going toward development of software—a much higher percentage than it was even 5 years ago. Another trend in automation also seemed clear at the show. As recently as 2 or 3 years ago, much of the available software for chemistry was designed for Apple and similar computers. Now, the laboratory standard is the IBM PC. As a representative of another company that manufactures computers noted with only slight exaggeration, "There's probably not a booth on the floor that doesn't have one."