American Society for Mass Spectrometry, Board of Directors 1972-1974. Seated left to right: A. H. Struck; F. H. Field; H. J. Svec; F. E. Saalfeld; Standing left to right: R. E. Honig; J. Berkowitz; M. T. Laug; H. E. Lumpkin, E. B. Owens. CHF Collections.
Pittcon and Innovation
Conference Program 1953, CHF Collections.
Similar to ASMS, the Pittcon annual meeting and community had deep historical roots. Foil Miller explained:
The start of the conference goes back to the fact that there were two active organizations in Pittsburgh at that time, both of which started in the 1940s. The older organization is the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh, which was an outgrowth of seminars that Mary [E. Warga] had organized. She was an emission spectroscopist at the University of Pittsburgh, and performed a very valuable service during the war [World War II] by training atomic spectroscopists, who worked in the various mills around Pittsburgh. Mary and the spectroscopists had periodic meetings. Finally they organized—I think it was perhaps around 1946—into the society, which held annual meetings. The other group was the Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh [SACP]. They consisted of analytical chemists who had started meeting in one another’s domiciles, because they felt that the local ACS [American Chemical Society] section didn’t quite meet their needs. The SACP was not as social as other groups. The SACP also organized and held annual meetings. In 1950 the two groups decided that they would combine their meetings and that was the beginning of the Pittsburgh Conferences. [...] The SACP and the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh decided to combine their meeting in 1950 and somebody—Jack Anderson of Koppers—had the brilliant idea of having an instrument exhibit in the future. That was a stroke of good fortune because the instrument exhibit has been an important component ever since. Because it had been traditional for one of these groups to meet around the end of February, that’s when they had the first meeting. It’s been traditional to hold the meeting in the late-February/early-March period ever since then. That was a very unfortunate choice. They should have picked a time when the weather was better. At that stage they could have done that. [...] But that first meeting was held in Pittsburgh, and for several years the meeting stayed in Pittsburgh—it pleased everyone that the initial attendance was so good, as I recall, something like eight hundred. So they decided to have it the next year, and the next year, and so on. (Miller, 1)
Key to the success of Pittcon—and other mass spectrometry–related conferences—was the people. McLafferty noted that the audience was receptive even to the work of those not in the most popular applications for mass spectrometry—such as his own organic chemistry work in the 1950s:
The early Pittsburgh Conference meetings were dominated by the petroleum chemists, but really nice guys. And they used to tease the few of us that were organic mass-spec people that did other kinds of compounds, and yet they never gave us any trouble about giving papers, and they came to our papers, and yet that wasn’t their bread and butter. (McLafferty, 47)
Meyerson's hand-written notes on a Pittcon conference talk titled: Computed Calibration Data for Gas Analysis by Mass Spectrometry, CHF Collections. Click here for full size.
McLafferty also addressed an early issue in the field and how the community’s collaborative nature propelled the field forward. “The real problem was that people had shoeboxes full of spectra that the rest of us would like to look at and we would like to contribute ours, but nobody had the time to put them into careful format and everything” (McLafferty, 47). McLafferty spoke to colleagues at the conference in 1955 and became the first chair of the Uncertified Spectra Committee, which collected uncertified spectra from a variety of researchers. McLafferty continued:
It actually was a very nice thing and the people worked together on it. I can even remember at one of those meetings I had already started working on a paper for Analytical Chemistry, “Correlating the Mass Spectra of Alcohols,” and to my surprise [R. A. “Gus”] Friedel and [A.G. “Jack”] Sharkey had a paper on “The Correlated Mass Spectra of Alcohols” at the conference. And so we got together and we said, “Well, what else are you doing?” And I said, “Well, we’re already started on aldehydes and esters,” and I’ve forgotten who else was doing what. And so we decided that, “Well, why don’t you go ahead and publish alcohols and we’ll do aldehydes next.” And I think we had promises from several other people who all came through. But this way most of the people didn’t write papers, but at least they sent spectra in. (McLafferty, 47–48)