Pittcon Turns 60 in Chemical & Engineering News

Pittcon 1982 in Atlantic City

February 23, 2009 - Chicago, IL

by David C. Brock

When the instrumentation and analytical communities gather again next month in Chicago for their central annual event, Pittcon, they will mark the 60th anniversary of this unique—and uniquely successful—conference and exposition. Pittcon is simultaneously a large technical conference and among the largest of U.S. trade shows. It's a hub for information exchange, mixing the analytical research community with a veritable army of representatives from the instrumentation and laboratory supply industries. Like all other trade shows and professional gatherings, Pittcon 2009 (more formally, the 60th Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry & Applied Spectroscopy) will undoubtedly be challenged by the prevailing global recession. But if the past is a reliable guide to the future, one can expect that the distinctive community-bolstering character of this all-volunteer, nonprofit enterprise will remain steadfast.

Pittcon began in 1950 as a small technical meeting with an instrumentation exhibition, fitting comfortably on the 17th floor of the William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. After growing steadily to eventually fill the hotel over the next 18 years, the meeting moved to Cleveland in the face of a hotel workers' strike in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Conference has not been held in Pittsburgh again. In 1980, Pittcon had become a truly national conference and moved to Atlantic City, N.J. Since then, Pittcon has consistently occupied a middle ranking on the Tradeshow Week 200, a list of the largest U.S. expositions as measured by exhibitor space. As the meeting approached its fifth decade in 1988, Pittcon left Atlantic City for New Orleans, beginning its life as a massive roadshow, moving between a selection of cities that are home to the largest of convention centers: New Orleans, Orlando, and Chicago, in particular...

Just as Pittcon has become a significant arena for information exchange about the present and future trends in analytical instrumentation, research, and applications, it is also one of the most active sites of exchange about the past: the heritage of analytical instrumentation and the instrumentation industry. A large collection of historic instrumentation was gathered for the 50th Pittcon in 1999 and became a core element of the instrumentation collection of the Philadelphia-based Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), which has recently opened one of the only museum exhibitions in the past 20 years to directly explore the history of the chemical sciences, using the display of analytical instrumentation as a facet (C&EN, Oct. 27, 2008, page 34).

Similarly, Pittcon developed a "Hall of Fame" for the 1999 meeting, a display of poster-sized panels containing biographical information on 22 pioneering figures from the analytical instrumentation and laboratory supply industries. From 2002 to the present, the annual Pittcon Heritage Award, presented at the opening plenary session of the conference by CHF and Pittcon, inducts another member into this Hall of Fame. Beginning even earlier, in 1990, the annual James L. Waters Symposium has brought together leading figures in particular analytical approaches to review and discuss the development of their fields of expertise...

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