Rebooted and upgraded - SLAS2012 Show Preview

The merged ALA and SBS groups, now known as SLAS, launch first-ever joint annual meeting

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SAN DIEGO—It's not often that an event is simultaneouslyheld for the 16th time, the 18th time and the first time,but that's exactly the feat that the Society for Laboratory Automation andScreening (SLAS) is managing to pull off with its first annual conference andexhibition in Southern California, to be held Feb. 4-8 at the San DiegoConvention Center.
Spring 2010 saw the merger of the Association for LaboratoryAutomation (ALA) and the Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) to form theSLAS, but ALA's LabAutomation2011—the 15th annual LabAutomationshow—and SBS's 17th annual conference and exhibition were conductedseparately because both events were already locked in and too far along in theplanning stages to abort or alter substantially. In 2012, though, the ALA andSBS portions of the SLAS membership will come together at the same time for thefirst time.
According to SLAS CEO Greg Dummer, this watershed eventisn't simply a reboot, or even a mash-up—it's a whole new creation with astrong sense of tradition, along with added features that will enhance theexperience for both portions of the SLAS membership.
"I think our challenge this year is to maintain that highlevel of personal interaction that's been a hallmark of our history as separateorganizations and maintain that sense of intimacy, at the same time as we'readding more value and bringing these two groups of people together officiallyfor the first time," Dummer says. "The branding is new because this is thefirst SLAS annual meeting, but the content is consistent with offerings at pastevents for ALA and SBS. There is something that everyone can be comfortablewith, but at the same time, we are expanding content and pushing into newareas. That goes to the heart of why you have a professional society to beginwith. You get the cross-fertilization of all these different scientific disciplinesand allowing people to have cross talk. There's just a higher level of thatnow."
The program planning committee approached it as if it wasstarting a new legacy, notes Dan Sipes, co-chair of the SLAS2012 ScientificProgram Committee, "which, of course, we were," he says. "But we started withfresh eyes realizing that it will change in the future. We pulled together acertain format to provide a baseline and a template, but it's designed toevolve into the future."
One of the main challenges, according to Sipes, was incombining the immense amount of content into one program.
"We couldn't simply be additive and combine the equivalentof the ALA and SBS programs into one because it would be too much content andultimately dilutive," he says. "Because this is so new, putting together astrong program in all the necessary tracks was challenging, especially in termsof picking the highest-quality talks with only a few days to do it in. Webasically have a little over two-and-a-half days for the scientific program,when the conferences for ALA and SBS were each two or three days each, and thatmade it interesting to hit the right kind of balance."
"We're literally setting a benchmark with this first annualmeeting, and the key is to learn from what we've done—both successes and thingswe could do better—and then after running out the conference, see what membersgot from the program and what their feedback is, react to that and adjustthereafter," adds Dr. Frank Fan, the other co-chair. "But I think we've figuredout how to run a meeting in a short timeframe and not overwhelm people, whilealso giving them lots of useful content.
"We've installed some great mechanisms going forward," Fancontinues. "The program chairs for the 2013 event were on the programcommittee, and they've participated in the whole planning process this year, sothat gave them a good idea as to how things run. That, along with all of usattending the conference and then getting member feedback, will be huge tocontinued success and improvements going forward."
Many of the professionals at the SLAS home office nearChicago come from the former ALA, the co-chairs note, and one of the conceptsthat Dummer—who was executive director of the ALA—brought over was a sort oftripod concept of "the three E's," in which the program planners give more orless equal weight to the education aspect, which is the scientific program; theexperience aspect, which is the social and networking side; and the exhibition,which plays into networking but also brings in the new products,business-to-business connections and more.
To that end, Dummer notes, the first annual SLAS meetingbrings attendees more than 300 posters, more than 130 scientific presentations,more than 20 short courses, more than 275 exhibitors, some 15 SLAS specialinterest groups meeting at the event and six organizations with which SLAS hassome kind of alignment and relationship with in major conference events.
"We've got more than 55,000 square feet of exhibition spaceand more than 40 new companies that have never been at any of our conferencesbefore," he adds.
"This is the first combined society annual conference, and Isee it being something that people should attend because it really expressesthe core values represented by the two parts of the society and all members canexpect to see their content and interests covered," says Fan, who serves as adirector of research at Madison, Wis.-based Promega Corp. "But another reasonto come is that this merged society is also aiming to explore newterritories—that was part of the board's strategic plan when the SLAS wascreated. Therefore, there will be new things to see, new tracks and newdirections as well as familiar subjects and events."
As challenging as it was to put together such an ambitiousprogram for two distinct sets of SLAS members, everything came together quitenicely, says Sipes, the director of advanced automation technologies at theGenomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, and the content fromeach side looks like it will complement the other nicely. For his part, Fannotes that he's never been part of organizing such a large and complex eventand to his surprise, "we finished everything in terms of the scientific programthree or four months before the meeting start. Usually, you see all sorts of 11th-houractions to get things together, but that wasn't the case here."
Dummer expects between 4,400 and 5,000 people will be at theevent, and based on registrations so far, when he spoke to ddn in late December, attendance was tracking at 3 percent ahead ofproject levels. In addition, the exhibit hall had already been expanded twiceby that point and was at the time sold at 110 percent. In addition to that,sponsorships were 113 percent sold.
SLAS2013 will be in Orlando Jan. 12-15, 2013, and Dummersays, "We already have the keynote speakers for that event and will startmarketing that next as soon as we're done with SLAS2012. The strategy is toalternate between the East Coast and West Coast. For the foreseeable future, itwill be between San Diego and Orlando, but because we have so many membershigher up the coast, we might look farther northeast at times going forward."
For more information, visit the SLAS2012 website or the SLAS main website at Also on theelectronic front, Dummer notes that mobile apps have been created to make iteasier for convention attendees to schedule their time and navigate the exhibitfloor.

SLAS elects three newmembers of the board of directors
ST. CHARLES, Ill.—The Society for Laboratory Automation andScreening (SLAS) elected new members to the board of directors, whose termscommence Jan. 31. They are Dr. Frank Fan, a director of research at Madison,Wis.-based Promega Corp.; Robyn Rourick, the senior manager of study operationsat Genentech in San Francisco; and Daniel Sipes, the director of advancedautomation technologies at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis ResearchFoundation.
"SLAS is pleased to announce and welcome three highlyqualified individuals as members to the SLAS board of directors," says MichellePalmer, president of SLAS. "Adding the expertise and diversity of Frank Fan,Robyn Rourick and Daniel Sipes will help SLAS fulfill its mission of being thepreeminent global organization for laboratory science and technologyprofessionals."
Fan's group at Promega focuses on developing assays andtechnologies for cellular analysis and drug discovery, and previously he was asenior investigator in the anti-infectives division at GlaxoSmithKline. Rourickbrings more than 20 years of industrial experience in development, directionand management of pharmaceutical sciences, analytical chemistry, drugmetabolism and pharmacokinetics, and at Genentech she oversees non-clinicalstudies for multiple therapeutic programs. Sipes is responsible for developmentof hardware and assay technologies to support large-scale cellular profilingand high-throughput screening efforts.
The three board members whose terms close in January are Dr.Robert Ames of GlaxoSmithKline PLC' Prof. William Janzen of the University ofNorth Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Palmer, who is at the Broad Institute ofHarvard and MIT. 

Eight emergingentrepreneurial companies to participate in Innovation AveNEW
ST. CHARLES, Ill.—As entrepreneurial companies continue toexperience challenges while facing unstable economic conditions, the Societyfor Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) will provide eight emergingcompanies from around the world with the opportunity to showcase theirinnovations through the Innovation AveNEW program at the First Annual SLASConference and Exhibition.
The eight companies are BioTillion LLC in Skillman, N.J.;CryoGaTT Systems Ltd. in Middlesex, United Kingdom; NeurAccel in La Jolla,Calif.; Persomics in Pretoria, South Africa; Ubiquigent in Dundee, Scotland;Venomtech in Kent, United Kingdom; regenHU Ltd. in Villaz-Saint-Pierre,Switzerland; and LabMinds Ltd. in Oxford, United Kingdom.
The mission of Innovation AveNEW is to offer start-upcompanies operating within the laboratory science and technology field "a forumfor positive, collaborative interaction and exposure for their product and/orservice concept," according to SLAS. Innovation AveNEW will be presented in aspecially designated area on the SLAS2012 exhibit floor.
As described by the SLAS, "The Innovation AveNEW programaffords selected emerging entrepreneurial companies the opportunity to activelyengage and participate in a world-class event by providing free exhibit spaceand travel. The program will help participants to grow and scale theirbusinesses as well as directly connect them with more than 5,000 purchasinginfluencers and decision-makers from more than 40 countries." 

Industries covered bySLAS2012's scientific program
  • Drug discovery and development
  • Clinical diagnostics
  • Food and agricultural sciencesForensics and security sciences
  • Petrochemicals and energy
  • Consumer products

SLAS2012 educationaltracks
  • Assay development and screening
  •  High-throughput technologies
  •  Drug target biologyMicro- and nanotechnologies
  •  Bioanalytical techniques
  •  Informatics
  •  Diagnostics

Nine finalists viefor $10,000 SLAS Innovation Award
One of the traditions carried over from the ALA to the SLASannual meetings is the SLAS Innovation Award, and the organization recentlynamed the nine finalists who will vie for the $10,000 prize. 
They are:
  • David Beebe of the University of Wisconsin,Madison, One-Step Analyte Isolation
  • Rosemary Drake of TAP Biosystems in Royston,United Kingdom, New Platform Technology for Simple,Consistent Production of Collagen-Based Tissues for Physiologically RelevantAssays
  • Dan Dongeun Huh of Harvard University, A Human Breathing Lung-on-a-Chip for DrugScreening and Nanotoxicology Applications
  • Sunghoon Kwon of Seoul National University inSouth Korea, Partipetting & Spinning ColorBarcoded Microparticles for Ultraplex Bio-assay
  • Liang Li of SlipChip LLC in Chicago, SlipChip: High-Throughput Platform forProtein Crystallization and Molecular Diagnostics
  • David Nolte of Purdue University in WestLafayette, Ind., Tissue Dynamics Imaging for PhenotypicProfiling in Drug Screening
  • Aydogan Ozcan of the University of California,Los Angeles, Ultra-High Throughput On-Chip Microscopyand Cytometry Using Lens-free Computational Imaging
  • Randall Peterson of Massachusetts GeneralHospital in Charlestown, Mass., Automated, In-Vivo Screening for Behavior-Modifying Compounds
  • Rajaram Krishnan of Biological Dynamics Inc. inSan Diego, An AC Electrokinetic Device for theSeparation and Detection of Cancer-Related Nanosomes
The SLAS Innovation Award recognizes the top SLAS2012 podiumpresenter who, according to SLAS, "put forth research that demonstratesoutstanding innovation and contributes to the exploration of laboratorytechnologies." The panel of judges that selected these nine finalists based ontheir submitted abstracts will evaluate each of the finalists' podiumpresentations at SLAS2012 and then select the overall best presentation as theaward recipient.
"The SLAS Innovation Award honors the work behind that oneunique presentation at SLAS2012 that is exceedingly innovative in theexploration of new technologies or advancement of mature technologies," saysDr. Jörg Kutter, chair of the SLAS Innovation Award Panel of Judges. "All ofour finalists have submitted presentations that will benefit the scientificcommunity, and the panel of judges is looking forward to determining the awardrecipient at the First Annual SLAS Conference and Exhibition."
The award recipient will be announced Wednesday, Feb. 8during the SLAS2012 closing keynote session featuring Dr. Robert Ballard, aprofessor at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanographyand founder and president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium.

Investing in the future
SAN DIEGO—SLAS2012 features much not just for workingprofessionals, but also for the next generation of working professionals, notesSLAS CEO Greg Dummer. As part of that, SLAS offered 39 academic scholarships toallow students to attend.
"We also pay for their flights and hotel rooms," Dummersays, "and that number of scholarships is a pretty big one for a group oursize."
It's a commitment with which he is familiar and comfortable,going back to his days leading the ALA. But with an eye toward improvements,there is a new addition to student-oriented activities this year, a freshprogram that Amgen is sponsoring called "SLAS Quenches Graduate Students'Thirst for Knowledge," he says.
"It's a special wine-and-cheese get-together at the ThomasJefferson School of Law with grad students only for the opportunity to get faceto face with real pros and get real-world insights about what awaits them aftergraduation," Dummer explains. Also involved with putting the event together is theKeck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
he event will be held Saturday, Feb. 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 8p.m.

As described in the SLAS2012 program materials on the SLAS website, the eventallows students "an opportunity to get face to face with front lineprofessionals, gain real world insight on how to launch and build successfulcareers in laboratory science and automation and enjoy casual conversation,wine and cheese with other students, practicing scientists, special guests andVIPs."
There will also be a student poster competition that offersa $750 cash award for most outstanding poster presentation, a $500 cash awardfor second place and $250 for third place.
In addition, in an offering called "Life After Graduationand Career Coaching," presented by the American Chemical Society, there will betwo early-morning breakfast workshops to help students get the most from theirconference experience and assist them in job searching.
The Monday morning session on Feb. 6 focuses on how tonetwork at a technical meeting, with SLAS noting of the session that "everyonehas uncertainties about how to attend meetings and make them work for you andyour career. This session will review critical activities that can make adifference for you—networking conversations, practice with small talk,listening skills and body language." The Monday session will also offer inputon résumé and cover letter writing, giving tips on how to structure them andexplaining the distinction between curriculum vitaes, résumés and more.
The Tuesday morning session on Feb. 7 begins with "TheInterviewing Continuum" to, as SLAS describes, help students "look in themirror" to see themselves as a candidate for a professional position.
"Would you hire the person you see in front of you?" SLASasks. "This is the question you effectively ask each representative whointerviews you."
The Tuesday session will also feature mock interviews toteach interviewing principles. The audience will provide feedback andindustrial employers who will critique the interviews from their perspective.Students are asked to bring copies of their résumés.
One-on-one career counseling sessions will also be availableby appointment at the SLAS Member Center.

(For more information about the show, focusing on social events and local attractions, click here)

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