Highlights from LabAutomation 2010

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.

Amy Swinderman
PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—The clouds and seemingly nonstop rainthat plagued southern California for the last week gave way to sunshine andmild 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 golfresort and retirement community.
 
 
According to the ALA, 4,113 participants from around theworld attended the conference on emerging laboratory technologies, held at thePalm Springs Convention Center. The five-day event included 100 podiumpresentations from across the field of laboratory automation, 18 short courses,200 poster presentations, 18 industry-sponsored workshops and four specialsessions and marketplace briefings. 
 
Special sessions focused on hot topics, such as India's emergingpharmaceutical market, equipment purchasing trends in North America andEuropean standardization efforts regarding laboratory automation.
 
 
This year's attendees included academia, commercial andgovernment researchers, scientists and engineers from around the globe whoconduct research and develop new technologies to increase productivity, elevateexperimental data quality, reduce lab process cycle times or enableexperimentation that otherwise would be impossible. The ALA awarded 46 AcademicTravel Awards to students and post-docs who authored poster or podiumpresentations.
 
In a special moment at the conference, ALA Charter MemberGary Kramer and ALA Co-Founder Dave Herold announced the renaming of the ALAAcademic Travel Award to the Tony B. Award in honor of ALA Co-Founder TonyBeugelsdijk from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who passed away in August2009. 
The show's opening keynote address was delivered by R.Graham Cooks, Purdue University's Haas Distinguished Professor of AnalyticalChemistry, who spoke on the changing landscape of mass spectrometry.
 
 
Plenary speakers included Hod Lipson of Cornell University; Kei Koizumi of the White HouseOffice of Science and Technology; and Bruce Sterling, American science fictionnovelist and blogger. 
 
"The feedback on LabAutomation2010 has been overwhelminglypositive and is extremely gratifying to ALA and to the members of theLabAutomation2010 Scientific Committee," says Robyn Rourick, LabAutomation2010 conference chair. "This year's special sessions and marketplace briefings aswell as the outstanding plenary series added to an already strong educationalprogram. We couldn't be more pleased."

 
New products on display
 
LabAutomation2010's exhibit hall housed approximately 400booths showcasing technologies from nearly 250 companies around the world,including 40 first-time exhibitors and featuring more than 20 new productlaunches.
 
 
Now in its fourth year, Innovation AveNEW welcomed eightstart-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 ArtusLabs' Method Genius, a system that allows analytical scientists to identify thebest ways for separating compounds, developing methods and deconvolutingdegradation products; Beckman Coulter's SPRIworks, an automated benchtop devicethat prepares up to 10 DNA libraries in five hours with high reproducibilityand consistency; and Emerald Biosystems' MPCS Plug Maker, a new laboratoryinstrument 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 liquidhandling quality assurance tool manufacturer based in Westbrook, Maine,unveiled new features of its MVS Multichannel Verification System, an objectiveperformance assessment and optimization tool for automated liquid handlers. Thenew features, expected to be available at the end of the first quarter, enhancemeasurement data comparability, increase the speed of volume verification andallow users to reduce the overall variability of their laboratory processes.Artel demonstrated MVS in its exhibit booth with automated liquid handlers fromBeckman Coulter, Tecan, Agilent and Hamilton. Artel also co-hosted a workshopwith Hamilton on validating and optimizing Hamilton automated handlers usingthe MVS. Additionally, it showcased its Liquid Handler Performance Verificationservice, in which Artel specialists provide onsite volume transfer performanceassessment and optimization for automated liquid handlers.

Caliper Life Sciences
proudly announced that its integratedrobotic system was featured in Time Magazine's top 10 scientific discoveries of2009. The system, designed by Caliper's Automation, Consulting, Engineering andServices (ACES) team, made number 4 on the list. Known as "Adam, the RobotScientist," the system, as documented by the journal Science, identified therole and function of nearly a dozen previously uncharacterized yeast genes. Theachievement marks the first time a robot with virtually no human interventioncompleted the cycle of the scientific method.
 
 
Cyntellect Inc., a privately held life sciences companycommercializing products to advance the study of cell biology, stem cellresearch, biopharmaceutical production and drug discovery, announced theavailability of the full Cyntellect product portfolio, including the CeligoAdherent Cell Cytometer, the LEAP Cell Processing Workstation and related kitsand consumables, to the rapidly expanding life science sector in Asia. The newdistribution deals will enable San Diego-based Cyntellect to expand its salesand support network to China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia andThailand.
 
Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. announced the North Americandebut of the new Thermo Scientific Orbitor RS. Developed using proventechnology from Thermo Scientific RapidStak and Thermo Scientific Dimension4product lines, the Orbitor RS is a high-speed microplate mover offering proven,reliable performance with flexible plate handling. Extensive vertical reachallows multiple-stacked or high-density instruments to be loaded in a smallfootprint, and a bidirectional telescoping arm provides superior reach,improved user safety and unlimited base rotations within a 360-degreeworkspace.
 
In addition, Thermo Fisher Scientfic and The AutomationPartnership jointly introduced the new Capit-All IS Automated Capper/Decapper,a robust, high-throughput instrument that can de-cap or re-cap an entire rackof samples in less than 10 seconds. Secure capping is ensured as each tube isindividually sealed by its own separate clutch mechanism to the optimal torque,while all 96 caps are secured simultaneously for fast, quality capping. Theincorporation of an automated drip tray and a vacuum extraction port reduce anyrisk of contamination.
 
 
Labcyte of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based, which uses sound to moveliquids, introduced two pre-calibrated liquid class packages for use with itsEcho acoustic dispensers and POD 810 plate assemblers. This expandedcapability will allow its high-throughput screening customers to not onlytransfer compounds in DMSO, but also enables the transfer of a wide range ofliquids necessary to assemble miniaturized assays for biochemical andcell-based screening. In addition, the Echo platform can now address a widerange of growing applications in genomics and proteomics, such as siRNAscreening, real-time PCR genotyping and protein-based arrays. Labcyte alsointroduced a 1536-well source plate that meets user requests for lower deadvolume and increased working volume. According to Labcyte, the new 1536LDVplate cuts dead volume in half, increases the working volume by 12.5 percentand provides greater throughput compared to other 1536-well source plates.
 
 
PerkinElmer Inc., of Waltham, Mass., featured several of itsimaging, automation, detection and reagent tools, including Columbus 2.1 ImageData Management System, a high-volume image data management and analysissolution that enables faster interfacing of images and data management; EnSpireMultilable Plate Reader with ultra-sensitive luminescence andtemperature-control; JANUS Automated Workstation, a flexible, automated liquidhandling platform; cell::explorer, a robotic automation platform for cellularand high-content screening applications; Operetta Compact High ContentScreening System, a high-content screening system with a workflow-designed userinterface; AlphaScreen SureFire assays, which detect endogenous cellularkinases; 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 briefingon the latest additions to its equipment offerings. Matt Hamilton, vicepresident, Scott Eaton, director of marketing and sales, and Jason March,director of marketing, discussed several of the products being exhibited at theshow, but also hinted that several others will be announced in the very nearfuture. Among the products Hamilton has added to its repertoire are NIMBUSiProbe, an addition to Hamilton's line of compact liquid handling workstationsthat can be configured with any combination of 1 or 5 ml pipetting heads; RackRunner, a robotic tool that can integrate multiple -20 degrees Celsius and -80degrees Celsius Sample Access Manager (SAM) storage systems into a cluster orlink storage with a Hamilton liquid handling workstation; SAMple Puncher, anintegrated tube processing module that enables automated punching of tubes fromtheir storage trays; the Zeus Pipetting Module for IVD instruments, aself-contained Z-Excursion Universal Sampler (ZEUS) that aspirates volumes from1 to 1,000 uL and features Hamilton's air-displacement pipetting technology; andconductive CO-RE tips for 384-channel dispensing on Hamilton's MICROLAB STARliquid handling platform, which are disposable tips packaged in nested tipracks that provide higher packing and storing density and reduced spacerequirements. Hamilton also announced the introduction of the CO-RE 384 ShiftedTip Pickup (STP) Multichannel Probe Head for the MICROLAB STAR platform. Thenew head can pick up one column, one row or just one tip without changingheads.  


 
Partying in Palm Springs
 
On Sunday night, a weekend of short course programs came toa dramatic end as clusters of booth personnel gathered near televisions in theexhibit hall to watch the much-anticipated Saints-Vikings AFC championship game.Long-suffering fans of the so-called "cursed" Vikings groaned loudly as NewOrleans defeated Minnesota 31-28 in overtime.
 
Disappointed fans then filed into the LabAutomation2010Opening Night Launch Celebration, which was sponsored by Agilent Technologies.This year's reception was held in the lobby and courtyard of the RenaissancePalm Springs Hotel, near the customary poolside location, as the pool iscurrently under construction. Guests enjoyed wine and food samples from dozens of PalmSprings 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 Nightwith LRIG: Rapid Fire Innovation Session, a joint effort by the ALA and theLaboratory Robotics Interest Group that offers a select few companies a venue toshowcase their new products and technology innovations. This year, 16 companieswere selected to participate by an esteemed panel of judges from the ALA and LRIG: 
 
  • HighRes Biosolutions of Woburn, Mass.—NanoCell 
  • Infoteam Software AG of Laubisrütistrasse, Switzerland—SiLASoftware Library 
  • Labcyte of Sunnyvale, Calif.—Echo Screening and OmicsPackages
  • LIMR Chemical Genomics Institute (LCGC) of Wynnewood,Pa.—Orthogonal-
    Compressed Compound Libraries (OCL): A new HTS Consumable
  • Live Cell Assays of Martinez, Calif.—VSOM
  • Microsonic Systems of San Jose, Calif.—HENDRIX SM100
  • NanoEngineering of West Palm Beach, Fla.—Mass-spectrometry of Viruses
  • PharmaSeq of Monmouth Jct., N.J.—p-Chip Tagging System
  • Following that event, things got even more interesting atthe nearby Hotel Zoso, where conference attendees were treated to the sounds ofthe PerkinElmer Rock Band. Known as "the hardest working band in science,"PerkinElmer colleagues from around the globe covered classics from Huey Lewisto Devo, even donning 1980s-themed costumes at one point during the show.







    ALA looks ahead to 2011
     


    Laboratory automation professionals will return to PalmSprings next year for LabAutomation2011, to be held Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, 2011.
     


    According to the ALA, Dr. Chad Mirkin of NorthwestUniversity will headline the event as one of several plenary series speakers.Mirkin is a world-renowned chemist and member of the White House ScienceTechnology Advisory Council.
     

    ddn will preview the show in our monthly newspaper and semimonthlye-newsletter, as well as our Web site, beginning in December.

    Amy Swinderman

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