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.
The conference was also an opportunity to see the latest in quickly evolving instrumentation. It was a chance to network—and also to debate. David Hercules recalled his early days at the conference:
Hear David Hercules: You could walk the exhibit in less than a day, so you could actually stop and talk to everybody along the way. People were developing new instrumentation, and as a smart-ass, young assistant professor, I told people what was wrong with the design of their instruments. It was fun. I remember going in with the students from Juniata, and there was somebody—I forget who it was—who designed a UV-visible spectrophotometer wrong. Instead of putting the light source, monochromator, and then the sample, they put the light source, sample, and then the monochromator. [laughter] Optically it doesn’t make any difference, but it means that you have the UV light source sitting right next to your sample. I told them, “I want to see you take a spectrum of anthraquinone.” By the time they were done taking the spectrum of anthraquinone, it was glowing because it had undergone photoreduction. For some reason they chose to use a really intense light source, I think to gain signal and a chance to keep their signal-to-noise ratio high. [laughter] (Hercules, 12)
Meyerson's CEC Users Meeting Notes of Alterations to the CEC 21-102 mass spectrometer. CHF Collections.
Like all conferences, the focus of Pittcon has changed over the years. Early on, Miller argued, “In the late 1940s and 1950s, it would have been the advent of infrared. Maybe even mass spec at that time, then chromatography” (Miller, 7). As time moved forward, others in the field noted the next shift in focus:
And over the last several years, a large part of the emphasis in these conferences, as a large part of the emphasis in the journals, has been on biological problems, in which the mass spectrometry is almost incidental. And I don’t know any way around it either, because biological problems are important. And I’m pleased to see the field in which I was able to make some contributions over a number of years itself in turn able to contribute to the solution of biological problems. (Meyerson, 63)
Despite the changes, innovative technology and the mass-spectrometry community has remained the hallmark of the conference. Frank Field and Mike Grayson confirmed the fast pace of change:
GRAYSON: Well, I’m sure aware, if you don’t move quickly in this field then . . .
FIELD: You’re dead.
GRAYSON: Yeah. You’re behind. You fall behind very quickly. I’ve gone to the last couple of Pittcons [Pittsburgh Conferences] and what’s going on now with the instrument development is just amazing. These instrument companies [...] must pull their hair out every time Pittcon comes around, because there’s so much new technology coming together. (Field, 43)
A Lasting Community
McLafferty sums up the importance of meetings like the ASMS annual meetings:
The meetings were the most important thing of all to me. I’ve only missed one meeting and I’ve forgotten which one it was, 1959 or something like that. And the reason for that is that as far as these things that I’ve done, these come out of ideas that I’ve collected by knowing all these people, by talking to all these people, and sure I haven’t given them enough credit for the ideas I stole from them. [laughter] But my only defense is that we almost never hid anything. We always talked about it at these meetings also, and I conversed with all of these people. [...] At these meetings we had all sorts of fun just kicking the thing around. And I don’t know who had gotten the patents or anything else out of these things. And we really didn’t care. (McLafferty, 100–101)
Each of these conferences has grown and evolved like the field itself. They have reflected the innovative, collaborative nature of the field, and they have also revealed the boundaries the discipline encountered as it pushed into biological and environmental applications. They provided a forum for discussion, debate, and change.
Today, the ASMS annual conference usually marks over 6,500 in attendance, with 3,000 papers presented each year. The organization sponsors short courses, other workshops, and focused conferences throughout the year. The activity of the ASMS and its prominence in the scientific community has roots in the collaborative beginnings of the field.