Start of a new era

Palm Springs plays host to the last distinct LabAutomation meeting as former ALA members look toward mingling with former SBS members in a single annual meeting in 2012

Jeffrey Bouley
PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—The recent merger of theAssociation for Laboratory Automation (ALA) and the Society for BiomolecularSciences (SBS) to form the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening(SLAS) won't mean any notable content changes for the LabAutomation2011 meetingin Palm Springs, Calif., compared to last year. However, the merger may mean alot of talk around the proverbial water cooler about what the unification ofALA and SBS means and what members need and want going forward.
 
TheSLAS recently drafted a strategic plan for the organization to provide a solidfoundation on which to build and plan for the future, and this meeting in PalmSprings—as well as the SBS annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in March—will be akey opportunity to make sure the plan resonates with SLAS members.
 
"Thecritical thing now is to get that plan out to the members and see what theyhave to say about it and whether they think this is the right direction for theorganization," says Dr. Michelle Palmer, the president of SLAS. "One of the keythings that has made this merger as smooth as it has been is goodcommunication, and we need to continue that with the rollout of the strategicplan and beyond that. What I've been hearing from members is that they arepositive and see great value in the merger, but even so, they will be lookinghard to see what the next six to 12 months will bring and where they willactually see the '1 + 1 = 3' effect we've promised."
 
"We'llbe holding events like town hall meetings and we'll probably be doing surveys,too, because we need to get out there and talk to members," notes Greg Dummer,CEO of SLAS. "When the voting on the merger took place, there was a 95 percentapproval rating, so clearly this move was the right thing at the right time;now we need to make sure we keep doing the right things. And the board membersand other key people with SLAS will be at LabAutomation and other meeting toengage with members and hear what they have to say about how we're doing andwhere we plan on going."
 
Whilethere are no significant programming changes to LabAutomation2011 subsequent tothe merger—since so much of the event was planned long before the ALA and SBScame together as one—Dummer notes that attendees will begin to see the clearemergence of SLAS as the "host entity" as some of the branding efforts begin tosee play with a large group of people.
 
As forwhat you can expect at the show, the usual large assortment of educational,social and career advancement opportunities will be available—too much to coverhere, frankly, particularly since SLAS has an entire area on its website forthe show at www.slas.org/LA11/index.cfm. But some highlights are worthmentioning right now.
 
Forone thing, the Laboratory Automation Section of the SLAS has announced thatthree industry partners will host briefings at LabAutomation2011: theAnalytical & Life Science Systems Association (ALSSA); Laboratory ProductsAssociation (LPA); and the SiLA Consortium for Standardisation in LabAutomation (SiLA). In collaboration with these entities, SLAS is bringing tomeeting attendees informational briefings about recent developments and trends.
 
Theexclusive, invitation-only ALSSA breakfast briefing will assess several recentdevelopments and trends in laboratory automation technologies and applicationsand the strategic implications for users and suppliers. The LPA briefing willannounce the preliminary results of the 2010 North American LaboratoryPurchasing Trends Report, addressing emerging trends such as the building ofnew laboratories, personnel issues and purchasing green products. Officialsfrom the SiLA Consortium in Basel, Switzerland, will report on referenceinstallations and new technology products applying or supporting SiLAstandards, and provide an overview and update on current automation standardsdevelopment projects.
 
On thelearning side of things, key education tracks at LabAutomation2011 will be:Detection and Separation; Micro- and Nanotechnologies; High-ThroughputTechnologies; Informatics; and Evolving Applications of Laboratory Automation—witha focus on agriculture and food. The primary industries at which programcontent is aimed are drug discovery and development, clinical diagnostics,agriculture and food, forensics and security and energy generation andpetrochemicals.
 
Alsonotable is the Late Night With LRIG: Rapid-Fire Innovation Session on Jan. 31in the Mojave Learning Center at the Renaissance Hotel Palm Springs. Organizedby SLAS's Laboratory Robotics Interest Group (LRIG), this highly interactiveforum—now in its fifth year—weaves together all the constituent audiencesattending LabAutomation2011 to learn about and discuss the latest innovationsin laboratory automation and technology products and services.
 
Accordingto SLAS, the evening offers quick, discerning information-bites from more thana dozen companies or institutions serving the many industries employing thescience of laboratory automation in a venue specifically designed for companiesto showcase their latest products and technology improvements.
 
"Theintent from the attendee perspective is to provide an efficient way to learnabout news and trends on the commercial front," notes the SLAS. "Attendeeparticipants will enjoy fertile ground for question-and-answer in an open-spaceatmosphere serving complimentary refreshments and beverages."
 
Seatingwill be limited on a first-come, first-served basis. Admission is free, simplyrequiring all participants to register as an exhibit-only attendee.
 

 
NEWS BRIEFS
 
SLAS names Innovation Award finalists for LabAutomation2011

ST. CHARLES, Ill.—The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening's Laboratory Automation Section, formerly known as the Association for Laboratory Automation, has announced the top candidates for its $10,000 Innovation Award at LabAutomation2011.

The Innovation Award recognizes the top LabAutomation2011 podium presenters who put forth research that demonstrates outstanding innovation and contributes to the exploration of automation technologies in the laboratory. A panel of judges will evaluate the top candidates' podium presentations at LabAutomation2011 and then select the overall best presentation as the $10,000 Innovation Award winner.

"This year's high-quality submissions show that LabAutomation continues to be the premier forum for the laboratory automation community to introduce new innovations in research and technologies," says Dr. Jorg Kutter, chair of the SLAS Innovation Award Panel of Judges, who adds that the award recipient will be announced Feb. 2 during the LabAutomation2011 closing plenary session featuring Dr. John M. Butler of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The finalists are: Dino Di Carlo of the University of California, Los Angeles; Scott Fulton of BioSystem Development LLC; Guillermo Garcia-Cardena of Harvard Medical School; Elliot Hui and Michelle Khine, both of the University of California, Irvine; Thomas Laurell of Lund University in Sweden; David Nolte of Purdue University; Kamlesh Patel of Sandia National Laboratories; Paul van Midwoud of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands; and Yama Abassi of ACEA Biosciences.

LabAutomation2011 Innovation AveNEW participants selected

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—In addition to the Innovation Award finalists noted above, SLAS's Laboratory Automation Section also has named which four start-up companies will take part in its fifth annual Innovation AveNEW program at LabAutomation2011: Flourescence Innovations of Bozeman, Mont.; Freeslate of Sunnyvale, Calif.; Librede Inc. of Los Angeles; and Inovia Technologies SA of Bex, Switzerland.

The mission for Innovation AveNEW is to give what SLAS thinks are emerging and elite start-up companies the opportunity to actively engage and participate in a world-class event by offering the participants free exhibit space and travel. The program helps participants to grow and scale their business as well as directly connects them with more than 4,000 purchasing influencers and decision-makers from more than 40 countries. Innovation AveNEW will be presented in a specially designated area on the LabAutomation2011 exhibit floor.

"Innovation AveNEW has become a highly competitive, integral part of LabAutomation2011, as start-up companies are eager to showcase their innovative products and service concepts that advance the laboratory automation field," says Michelle Palmer, SLAS president. "The program is a prime example of the SLAS commitment to bring together our community, as well as develop our presence in the global marketplace and emerging industry sectors."

Students, post-docs and junior faculty funded to attend LabAutomation2011

ST. CHARLES, Ill.—The Laboratory Automation Section of the SLAS also has selected 51 up-and-coming scientists and engineers from around the world who will receive complimentary travel, hotel accommodations and conference registration to attend and present at LabAutomation2011. This is funded through Tony B. Academic Travel Award, a program to which as much as $50,000 is allocated each year to select an elite group of students to attend the meeting. The SLAS Education Committee conducts a comprehensive evaluation to select an elite group of students for most of these travel awards, but a smaller number of participants receive the award by the SLAS working in concert with some of the world's top prestigious scientific conferences, institutions and educational forums to identify participants for the SLAS Young Scientist Award program.


 
OTHER SHOW PREVIEW FEATURES

Plenary to appreciate

SLAS welcomes trio of plenary speakers that exemplify visionary outlooks in lab automation

By Jeffrey Bouley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Each year, LabAutomation plays host to what it considers a line-up of "influential, forward thinking industry visionaries," offering a chance for LabAutomation2011 attendees to interact with "visionaries whose work exemplifies the mission of SLAS—to advance science and education related to laboratory automation." The three plenary speakers this year are Drs. Chad Mirkin, Daryl Lund and John Butler.

Chad A. Mirkin, Ph.D.
Monday, Jan. 31, 9–10 a.m.


Mirkin, who was asked in 2009 by President Obama to participate as a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and who also serves as director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, will present "The Polyvalent Oligonucleotide Nanoparticle Conjugate: A New Frontier in In Vitro Diagnostics and Intracellular Gene Regulation."

Over the past decade, Mirkin notes, researchers have developed methods for modifying nanoparticles with oligonucleotides and explored how they can be used as designer constructs for preparing highly ordered, highly functional materials. This has led to the discovery of many unusual fundamental properties that make these materials particularly useful in biodiagnostics and intracellular gene regulation. His plenary session will focus on the rules that govern the use of these conjugates and sequence specific crystallization, high selectivity and sensitivity nucleic acid and protein detection and antisense therapy.

Daryl Lund, Ph.D.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 9–10 a.m.


The editor-in-chief of the Journal of Food Science and an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Lund's presentation is titled "Laboratory Sensitivity and Automation: Essential for Utilizing the Full Value of Food."

Lund notes that regulatory agencies have come to depend on the ability to measure ingredients and contaminants to assure consumers of value and safety and eliminate fraud. As knowledge has expanded to the point of marketing food because of its functional properties of promoting good health, laboratory analytical techniques that accurately measure chemical constituents have become ever more crucial. Now, as our ability to measure constituents becomes more and more sensitive, Lund says, it calls into question what constitutes a safe level. In his presentation, Lund will explore these issues and the relationship between food and drugs.

John M. Butler, Ph.D.
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 12:45 p.m.


"Lab Automation: A Necessary Part of the Future of Forensic DNA Testing" is the title of the plenary session to be presented by Butler, who is a fellow and group leader of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Unlike what we see on television, real forensic DNA labs are overwhelmed with evidence that needs to be analyzed, with case backlogs growing and budgets shrinking. This presentation reviews the current state of the science and show where automation improvements have been made and can still be made to handle a growing number of DNA samples that need to be processed.


 
Spin through the air with the greatest of ease

Take a scenic ride in less than nine minutes that would otherwise require hours of hiking by foot

By Jeffrey Bouley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—If you want to get near the top of San Jacinto Peak all you need to do is head to the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs and buy a ticket on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Well, you could also hike for several hours from Idyllwild to get to the top of the mountain, but the question is whether you have the time or the legs for that kind of journey. Plus, you'd miss out on the bird's-eye view in what is reportedly the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world.

The roughly 15-minute, 2.5-mile ride begins at the Valley Station and passes up North America's sheerest mountain face to the Mountain Station at 8,516 feet above sea level in a trip that goes through so many life zones and climatic changes along the way that they trip has been likened by some as traveling from the Sonora desert to the Canadian tundra. As such, you might need to bring a sweater for the ride, as the temperature up top tends to be 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than at the base, and sometimes as much as 40 degrees or so cooler.

More than 12 million people have been carried along by the tram since it opened for its inaugural ride in September 1963, though a modernization program began in 1998 that ended in September 2000 with the construction and installation of new cars and updating of its facilities—so that passengers were then riding the world's largest rotating Tram cars. Some of the original cars remain on display outside the tram station.

The view at Mountain Station reportedly can stretch northward for more than 200 miles on a clear day, all the way to Mount Charleston near Las Vegas and as far as 75 miles to the east and west. Also, California's Salton Sea is visible to the southeast.

Children ride for $16.25, adults for $23.35 and seniors for $21.25. For a few dollars more after 3 p.m., you can pay for the Ride 'n' Dine Price, which includes round-trip tram fare and dining in Pines Cafe.
 


A prickly (but scenic) situation

Visit cacti and other desert plants from many locales at a unique botanical garden

By Jeffrey Bouley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Taking in the desert flora could mean some hiking, but if you want to get it all in one place, and maybe a guided tour to boot, check out the Moorten Botanical Garden, founded by the Moorten family—all desert plant specialists—who turned their residence estate into a living museum of desert lore.

According to the website, "There's something of interest for everyone with glistening crystals, colorful rocks, ancient fossils, pioneer and gold-mine relics."

Located at 1701 South Palm Canyon Dr. in Palm Springs, the one-acre Moorten Botanical Garden boasts a collection of more than 3,000 varieties of plants designed in concentrated habitats along a natural trail. Desert cacti and other desert plants are grouped by eight geographic regions: Arizona-Sonoran Desert-Yuma Desert; Baja California Peninsula; California-High Desert-Mojave Desert and Low Desert-Colorado Desert-Yuha Desert; Colorado Plateau-Great Basin Desert; Sonora, Mexico-Gran Desierto de Altar; South Africa-Succulent Karoo; South America-Monte Desert-Patagonian Desert; and Texas-Chihuahuan Desert.

In addition to the outdoor collections, there is also a "Cactarium" greenhouse collection with many different plants

Guided tours are available for groups of all types and ages. For more information, you can call (760) 327-6555 or visit their website at www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com.
 

 
Animal magnetism

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens brings visitors close to desert wildlife

By Jeffrey Bouley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—In the Sonoran Desert of the Coachella Valley and Santa Rosa Mountains foothills near Palm Springs, you can find what is said to be the only American zoo and botanic garden combination dedicated solely to the deserts of the world: the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

This public desert botanical garden, formerly known as the Living Desert Museum, is dedicated to desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation, and in particular, to preserve a portion of the Colorado Desert in its natural state. Established in 1970 as a 360-acre wilderness preserve by the Palm Springs Desert Museum, the zoo and gardens now span 1,800 acres, a thousand of which remain in their natural state.

The park features animals and plants that thrive in deserts from all around the world, including all four deserts of North America. One of the first stops on a tour through the park is the small animals exhibit, located on the entrance patio, which showcases small desert animals, many active mainly at night and eager to escape the heat of the day, making them hard to see up close otherwise. Along the pathways in the North America portion of the park, visitors can see such birds of prey as hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures, and such mammals as coyotes, badgers, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, desert bighorn and the endangered Peninsular pronghorn.

In addition, many birds, insects and reptiles roam free through the park, and visitors might even glimpse a chuckwalla, which is the largest lizard in the natural desert of the Palm Springs area.

The African portion of the park houses slender-horned gazelles, hornbills, weaver finches, meerkats, rock hyrax, warthogs, sand cats, fennec foxes, giraffes, ostriches, cheetahs, Cuvier's gazelle and the rare Grevy's Zebra.

Moreover, the park features the Village WaTuTu, which is a replica of a village found in northeast Africa. Mud-walled huts with grass-thatched roofs circle a shady Elder's Grove where you can hear African rhythms or African and Native American folklore spun by master storytellers. There is also a playground area for kids called Gecko Gulch, camel rides, the Wildlife Wonders Show, a carousel and more.

General admission is $14.25. Children ages 3 to 12 get in for $7.75, and children under 3 years of age are free. Special senior, military and AAA rates are $12.75 per person. The park is open every day from Oct. 1 to May 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.



More under the sun in Palm Springs

From airplanes to art and vintage to vino, a few more ideas of things to do

By Jeffrey Bouley

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—To round things out, here are four more quick ideas of things to do while in the Palm Springs area, spanning the areas of nostalgia to art to wine tasting.

Palm Springs Air Museum
745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs

 
This museum houses one of the nation's largest collection of World War II flying aircraft in air-conditioned hangars and also features the Buddy Rodgers Theater, which shows daily documentaries about aviation in the military with an emphasis on World War II. In addition to planes and historic artifacts, the museum boasts a library of 8,500 volumes primarily related to aviation and American military history.   

Palm Springs Art Museum
101 Museum Dr., Palm Springs

What began as a museum about the desert has evolved into much more over the years, now focusing on international modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Duane Hanson, John Chamberlin, Anselm Keifer, Anthony Gormley and many others, including contemporary Native American artists. Additional areas of focus include contemporary and studio art glass by Dale Chihuly, Karen LaMonte, Howard Ben Tré, Lynda Benglis, and William Morris; classic western American art by Thomas Moran, Charles Russell, Frederic Remington, Walter Ufer and Agnes Pelton; Native American baskets; Mesoamerican artifacts; and photography.  

Ruddy's General Store Museum
221 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs

Step back into the days of sarsaparilla, fly ribbons, Rinso, silk stockings, Mazda lamps, Father John's Medicine and Uneeda biscuits in the old cracker barrel in this authentic display of general store memorabilia, much of it dating back to the 1940s and collected over nearly four decades by Jim Ruddy. Every detail is said to be authentic, including the original showcases, fixtures, signs and products—including groceries, tobacco, hardware, clothing, medicines, beauty aids, soaps and notions. This not-for-profit museum in only open on the weekends, though, and requests a donation of 95 cents from each visitor over the age of 12.

Temecula Wineries
34567 Rancho California Rd., Temecula
It's a little over an hour's drive from Palm Springs, but the city of Temecula and surrounding area is home to more than a dozen wineries and more than 29 varietals. Tours, wine tastings and gift shops are offered at individual wineries.
 


Jeffrey Bouley

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