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Pittcon Shuffle: No Thinking Required

Another Pittcon has come and gone. Despite the economic woes of the world, total attendance for the week was about 18,000. That’s less than usual in recent years, but it is hard to say if it is a continuation of the ongoing downward trend for Pittcon or not–specialized instrumentation meetings have been siphoning away Pittcon regulars. Still, the array of instruments, lab supplies, and gizmos on display on the expo floor was as plentiful as ever. And it did not appear that many companies that signed up to display their wares pulled out at the last minute.

Pittcon attendees like me who crawl up one aisle of instruments and down another hit a zone after awhile–the Pittcon shuffle, we’ll call it. One booth after another becomes a blur, you lose the ability to decide if you want to stop to check out something or just keep shuffling, one foot after the other over thin carpet, thick carpet, faux wood flooring, concrete–it doesn’t matter. Not even bowls of candy or a cute tchotchke fazes you after awhile. By the way, my favorite trinkets this year: CEM’s crazy Dave beany hat and calendar, and Shimadzu’s Mr. Roboto 1 GB memory stick.

If one could generalize and say there were any noticeable trends this year, it was that there appeared to be fewer new products unveiled. That doesn’t bode well for the economy, if it is true that technological innovation is a driver of future economic growth.

One trend that seems to be continuing is the simplification of the human-instrument interface. Years ago one used to approach an instrument; spend some time setting it up, developing methods, or even writing your own software; then strap yourself in before pushing the go button. Nowadays, most companies aim to make operating an instrument as simple as possible: push a single button, run a preloaded method, and have the instrument wirelessly download the result to your laptop. No thinking is actually required. That takes turnkey operation to a new level.

While that is progress in the sense that researchers are free to spend less time fussing with the instrument and more time making progress on their research, it would seem that fewer people–in particular students and lab technicians–could one day not have a clue how the technique or the instrument works. I haven’t yet decided if that is a good thing or a bad thing, since my eyes are still glazed over from spending four days on the expo floor. Until next year …

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  • Mar 14th 200921:03
    by unbalanced reaction

    Does this mean we’ll start to see a reduction in expo swag? No more free beanie caps? Say it isn’t so.

    Pushbutton instrumentation can be great… until the instrument goes down. Where previously one could poke around (not mention know enough about said instrument to fix it!), now modular, black box construction often prevents that. Don’t get me started on out-sourced tech support….

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