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Highlights from LabAutomation 2010
PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—The clouds and seemingly nonstop rain that plagued southern California for the last week gave way to sunshine and mild temperatures as more than 4,000 laboratory automation professionals, speakers, exhibitors, scientists and students descended on Palm Springs, Calif., for LabAutomation2010, the Association for Laboratory Automation's (ALA) annual conference and exhibition, held this week in the popular golf resort and retirement community.
According to the ALA, 4,113 participants from around the world attended the conference on emerging laboratory technologies, held at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The five-day event included 100 podium presentations from across the field of laboratory automation, 18 short courses, 200 poster presentations, 18 industry-sponsored workshops and four special sessions and marketplace briefings.
Special sessions focused on hot topics, such as India's emerging pharmaceutical market, equipment purchasing trends in North America and European standardization efforts regarding laboratory automation.
This year's attendees included academia, commercial and government researchers, scientists and engineers from around the globe who conduct research and develop new technologies to increase productivity, elevate experimental data quality, reduce lab process cycle times or enable experimentation that otherwise would be impossible. The ALA awarded 46 Academic Travel Awards to students and post-docs who authored poster or podium presentations.
In a special moment at the conference, ALA Charter Member Gary Kramer and ALA Co-Founder Dave Herold announced the renaming of the ALA Academic Travel Award to the Tony B. Award in honor of ALA Co-Founder Tony Beugelsdijk from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who passed away in August 2009.
The show's opening keynote address was delivered by R. Graham Cooks, Purdue University's Haas Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry, who spoke on the changing landscape of mass spectrometry.
Plenary speakers included Hod Lipson of Cornell University; Kei Koizumi of the White House Office of Science and Technology; and Bruce Sterling, American science fiction novelist and blogger.
"The feedback on LabAutomation2010 has been overwhelmingly positive and is extremely gratifying to ALA and to the members of the LabAutomation2010 Scientific Committee," says Robyn Rourick, LabAutomation2010 conference chair. "This year's special sessions and marketplace briefings as well as the outstanding plenary series added to an already strong educational program. We couldn't be more pleased."
New products on display
LabAutomation2010's exhibit hall housed approximately 400 booths showcasing technologies from nearly 250 companies around the world, including 40 first-time exhibitors and featuring more than 20 new product launches.
Now in its fourth year, Innovation AveNEW welcomed eight start-up companies to the LabAutomation2010 exhibition: BSSN Software of Mainz, Germany; CellASIC of San Leandro, Calif.; Curiox Biosystems of Singapore; Cynora GmbH of Leopoldshafen, Germany; Delta Robotics of Berne, Switzerland; Dotmatics Ltd., of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom; Live Cell Assays of Martinez, Calif.; and NanoEngineering Corp. of West Palm Beach, Fla.
Winners of the ALA's New Product Award (NPA) Designation, which recognizes the best of what's new in the exhibit hall, included Artus Labs' Method Genius, a system that allows analytical scientists to identify the best ways for separating compounds, developing methods and deconvoluting degradation products; Beckman Coulter's SPRIworks, an automated benchtop device that prepares up to 10 DNA libraries in five hours with high reproducibility and consistency; and Emerald Biosystems' MPCS Plug Maker, a new laboratory instrument developed from the Microcapillary Protein Crystallization System (MPCS) technology that is used to perform microfluidic protein crystallization.
In other news from the exhibit floor, Artel, a liquid handling quality assurance tool manufacturer based in Westbrook, Maine, unveiled new features of its MVS Multichannel Verification System, an objective performance assessment and optimization tool for automated liquid handlers. The new features, expected to be available at the end of the first quarter, enhance measurement data comparability, increase the speed of volume verification and allow users to reduce the overall variability of their laboratory processes. Artel demonstrated MVS in its exhibit booth with automated liquid handlers from Beckman Coulter, Tecan, Agilent and Hamilton. Artel also co-hosted a workshop with Hamilton on validating and optimizing Hamilton automated handlers using the MVS. Additionally, it showcased its Liquid Handler Performance Verification service, in which Artel specialists provide onsite volume transfer performance assessment and optimization for automated liquid handlers.
Caliper Life Sciences proudly announced that its integrated robotic system was featured in Time Magazine's top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009. The system, designed by Caliper's Automation, Consulting, Engineering and Services (ACES) team, made number 4 on the list. Known as "Adam, the Robot Scientist," the system, as documented by the journal Science, identified the role and function of nearly a dozen previously uncharacterized yeast genes. The achievement marks the first time a robot with virtually no human intervention completed the cycle of the scientific method.
Cyntellect Inc., a privately held life sciences company commercializing products to advance the study of cell biology, stem cell research, biopharmaceutical production and drug discovery, announced the availability of the full Cyntellect product portfolio, including the Celigo Adherent Cell Cytometer, the LEAP Cell Processing Workstation and related kits and consumables, to the rapidly expanding life science sector in Asia. The new distribution deals will enable San Diego-based Cyntellect to expand its sales and support network to China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. announced the North American debut of the new Thermo Scientific Orbitor RS. Developed using proven technology from Thermo Scientific RapidStak and Thermo Scientific Dimension4 product lines, the Orbitor RS is a high-speed microplate mover offering proven, reliable performance with flexible plate handling. Extensive vertical reach allows multiple-stacked or high-density instruments to be loaded in a small footprint, and a bidirectional telescoping arm provides superior reach, improved user safety and unlimited base rotations within a 360-degree workspace.
In addition, Thermo Fisher Scientfic and The Automation Partnership jointly introduced the new Capit-All IS Automated Capper/Decapper, a robust, high-throughput instrument that can de-cap or re-cap an entire rack of samples in less than 10 seconds. Secure capping is ensured as each tube is individually sealed by its own separate clutch mechanism to the optimal torque, while all 96 caps are secured simultaneously for fast, quality capping. The incorporation of an automated drip tray and a vacuum extraction port reduce any risk of contamination.
Labcyte of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based, which uses sound to move liquids, introduced two pre-calibrated liquid class packages for use with its Echo acoustic dispensers and POD 810 plate assemblers. This expanded capability will allow its high-throughput screening customers to not only transfer compounds in DMSO, but also enables the transfer of a wide range of liquids necessary to assemble miniaturized assays for biochemical and cell-based screening. In addition, the Echo platform can now address a wide range of growing applications in genomics and proteomics, such as siRNA screening, real-time PCR genotyping and protein-based arrays. Labcyte also introduced a 1536-well source plate that meets user requests for lower dead volume and increased working volume. According to Labcyte, the new 1536LDV plate cuts dead volume in half, increases the working volume by 12.5 percent and provides greater throughput compared to other 1536-well source plates.
PerkinElmer Inc., of Waltham, Mass., featured several of its imaging, automation, detection and reagent tools, including Columbus 2.1 Image Data Management System, a high-volume image data management and analysis solution that enables faster interfacing of images and data management; EnSpire Multilable Plate Reader with ultra-sensitive luminescence and temperature-control; JANUS Automated Workstation, a flexible, automated liquid handling platform; cell::explorer, a robotic automation platform for cellular and high-content screening applications; Operetta Compact High Content Screening System, a high-content screening system with a workflow-designed user interface; AlphaScreen SureFire assays, which detect endogenous cellular kinases; and AlphaLisa "No Wash" Immunoassay kits for biomarker detection, including kits specific for human and mouse targets.
Finally, on Monday afternoon, Hamilton held a press briefing on the latest additions to its equipment offerings. Matt Hamilton, vice president, Scott Eaton, director of marketing and sales, and Jason March, director of marketing, discussed several of the products being exhibited at the show, but also hinted that several others will be announced in the very near future. Among the products Hamilton has added to its repertoire are NIMBUS iProbe, an addition to Hamilton's line of compact liquid handling workstations that can be configured with any combination of 1 or 5 ml pipetting heads; Rack Runner, a robotic tool that can integrate multiple -20 degrees Celsius and -80 degrees Celsius Sample Access Manager (SAM) storage systems into a cluster or link storage with a Hamilton liquid handling workstation; SAMple Puncher, an integrated tube processing module that enables automated punching of tubes from their storage trays; the Zeus Pipetting Module for IVD instruments, a self-contained Z-Excursion Universal Sampler (ZEUS) that aspirates volumes from 1 to 1,000 uL and features Hamilton's air-displacement pipetting technology; and conductive CO-RE tips for 384-channel dispensing on Hamilton's MICROLAB STAR liquid handling platform, which are disposable tips packaged in nested tip racks that provide higher packing and storing density and reduced space requirements. Hamilton also announced the introduction of the CO-RE 384 Shifted Tip Pickup (STP) Multichannel Probe Head for the MICROLAB STAR platform. The new head can pick up one column, one row or just one tip without changing heads.
Partying in Palm Springs
On Sunday night, a weekend of short course programs came to a dramatic end as clusters of booth personnel gathered near televisions in the exhibit hall to watch the much-anticipated Saints-Vikings AFC championship game. Long-suffering fans of the so-called "cursed" Vikings groaned loudly as New Orleans defeated Minnesota 31-28 in overtime.
Disappointed fans then filed into the LabAutomation2010 Opening Night Launch Celebration, which was sponsored by Agilent Technologies. This year's reception was held in the lobby and courtyard of the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, near the customary poolside location, as the pool is currently under construction. Guests enjoyed wine and food samples from dozens of Palm Springs area restaurants and danced to the music of The River Dogs Band, featuring ALA Charter Member Mark Russo on lead guitar.
Monday's show ended with the fourth annual Late Night with LRIG: Rapid Fire Innovation Session, a joint effort by the ALA and the Laboratory Robotics Interest Group that offers a select few companies a venue to showcase their new products and technology innovations. This year, 16 companies were selected to participate by an esteemed panel of judges from the ALA and LRIG:
Following that event, things got even more interesting at the nearby Hotel Zoso, where conference attendees were treated to the sounds of the PerkinElmer Rock Band. Known as "the hardest working band in science," PerkinElmer colleagues from around the globe covered classics from Huey Lewis to Devo, even donning 1980s-themed costumes at one point during the show.
ALA looks ahead to 2011
Laboratory automation professionals will return to Palm Springs next year for LabAutomation2011, to be held Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, 2011.
According to the ALA, Dr. Chad Mirkin of Northwest University will headline the event as one of several plenary series speakers. Mirkin is a world-renowned chemist and member of the White House Science Technology Advisory Council.
ddn will preview the show in our monthly newspaper and semimonthly e-newsletter, as well as our Web site, beginning in December.