This year marks the 69th annual Pittcon, the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, where over 13,000 guests were welcomed. Pittcon is the world’s leading annual conference and expo on laboratory science. The conference offers a unique opportunity for a hands-on experience featuring the latest innovations. Pittcon offers attendees a chance to network with industry colleagues, a chance to participate in research presentation viewing from over 2,000 presenters covering a diverse selection of topics, as well as the chance to participate in skill-building short courses throughout the event. The conference welcomes attendees from both the industry and academia from 90+ countries!

On February 26, three FIU BME students were welcomed into Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, not only as conference presenters, but as volunteer organizers for the event itself. Students from Dr. Chenzhong Li’s Nanobioengineering/Bioelectronics Lab, were selected by the conference organizing committee to voluntarily serve at the conference. The students from Dr. Li’s lab have continually served in the conference since 2012, and have received an exceptional reputation by performing and excelling in their assignments during the conferences, therefore, their selection to be student aids to service for the conference was evident. The engagement of FIU students to the international scientific event also met the mission of the educational outreach development of NSF funded ERC (Engineering Research Center) projects. These students were partially sponsored by NSF ERC projects No.EEC-1648451 (PATHSUP) and No. EEC-1647837 (CELLMET). We interviewed two students selected to attend Pittcon and asked them a few questions. Read responses below from Mehenur Sarwar and Maedeh Mozneb.

BME: What did you learn from attending Pittcon?

MS: I learned about new techniques in Nano-bioelectronics, Optical, and many other biomedical disciplines. Additionally, I received information about new techniques and products that will save me time in the lab or help me to produce more accurate results. At the Pittcon conference, I got the opportunity to engage in conversation with biomedical technical experts.

MM: It was a great opportunity to see the state of art technologies in the field of biomedical engineering and chemistry. The demo zones provided detailed protocol of running specific devices or techniques in half a day and were very beneficial. I got great connections from all over the nation, both academic and industrial and they are very responsive to all the follow ups. It was a great honor to be nominated to attend the Pittcon conference. All the feedback I got on my poster presentation from the experts in the field and other fellow researchers at high ranked universities were very constructive towards fast forwarding my research and brought new perspectives into my sight for future applications. 

BME: How/why were you selected as an event organizer?

MS: Professor Chenzhong Li informed us about the volunteer opportunity at Pittcon, and later we communicated with [Pittcon organizers] to find out our assignments and schedule. 

MM: My advisor Dr. Li, has been a part of Pittcon for so many years and I was very honored to be nominated as a conference organizer. The background of the work you do at lab, the interactions with the community and the research stand point are very important in being selected as a candidate to attend. 

BME: What did you do as an event volunteer during the conference?

MS: During the conference, I worked in the Demo Zone and the Swamp Stop booth.

At the expo floor’s demonstration zone, there were two live demo areas where attendees participated in 20-minute, interactive product demonstrations.  Their products included air monitoring, new techniques in water testing, innovative products to increase lab efficiency, and recent developments in spectroscopy, spectral databases, and techniques for using hazardous materials. My role as a volunteer in this event was following:

– Assist the presenter to set up the instrument

– Reporting to the organizer of the event (audience size, whether they looked engaged or not, length of presentation, etc.). These pieces of information were important to collect because based on these results, they will select next year’s presenter.

Additionally, I volunteered at swamp stop booth by admitting the participant, informing the processes of the game, and notifying about the exciting reward for the winner as well as for all the participants. This booth had seven different scientific challenges like Refractometer Game – where the participant had 60 seconds to measure the concentration of  10 different salt solutions, Not Seeing is Still Believing Game- where participant identified various substances only seeing through an opaque container with Raman system and many more interesting games. 

MM: I was in charge of the marketing part of the conference. I asked attendees for feedback on the conference, took pictures on the red carpet, handed out goodies from the conference, and made arrangements. 

BME: Did you present at the conference? 

MM: I presented my poster at the conference, and it was very popular! The research topic is currently funded by NSF ERC projects.

*Click here to read Maedeh’s abstract.

BME: What leadership skills did you attain while participating in the conference?

MS: As part of demo zone assistance I interacted with different scientific vendors, learned about their new products. I coordinated with technical support systems before launching the event to get a quick assistance if any unseen problem arises.

MM: We had organized a complete conference (Nanoflorida2017) that was held in Miami last September. It was a small conference (200 attendees), but it gave us so much to appreciate now at how the Pittcon was run and planned well in advance. The distribution of personnel, expo funding and set up, activities to be provided from attendees, were all part of the skills we learned at Pittcon to be applied in our next NanoFlorida conference. 

BME: Any advice for students interested in attending/organizing a conference?

MS: If you are interested in joining a conference, try to become a volunteer they will cover almost every expenditure. Also, you never know who are you going to meet, so bring your business card or a paper copy of resume to the event. To be in the volunteer list contact early.

MM: The conference is for nominated students from all universities and the higher the scholar’s honor of the student the better chance that person has for being nominated. The atmosphere of the conferences very friendly and constructive. The smartest people in the field attending this conference will give you constructive comments and information regarding your research and how to improve your thought process. Anyone you speak with in the conference will be a learning opportunity and that’s what I loved from attending Pittcon. 

BME: Overall thoughts on your experience?

MS: The scientific field is always evolving. It is of utmost importance that we keep in touch with new discoveries in science. Pittcon is the world’s leading annual conference and exposition on laboratory science. Roughly, attendees from 90 countries joined in this conference. I am very glad that I had the opportunity to meet different scholars around the world. 

MM: It was a very fun conference to attend. Not only it had all the cutting edge scientific information on the medical devices, sensors and chemical techniques that is necessary to be updated on, it also had so many fun activities. We entered into two scientific tournaments that had several booths for testing different techniques such as pipetting, FTIR, our information of the history of science and the periodic table etc. It had a couple of virtual reality booths, so many demo zones, great symposium on many subjects of interest, and so many after-hours activities such as the Universal Studios experience. 

BME: Final thoughts or any additional information you’d like researchers to know about your experience?

MM: Pittcon has been going on for 69 years. It started from a small room in the University of Pittsburge and now is the size of 20,000 people attendees. The opportunities presented in the conference, such as networking with researchers from all around the world that work in the same filed as you are, job opportunities and employment booths, exposition of the largest companies around the world, Demos on how to use a technique or device and several oral and poster sessions, makes this conference a necessity to learn more in your academic career. 

Susan K. Zawacky, Chair of Special Projects: Student Coordinator of 2018 Pittcon, stated to Dr. Li: “You brought an excellent FIU student group who both enjoyed the conference, and were very responsible workers. We hope that you and your students will enjoy Pittcon again for the years to come!” Thank you to our BME Pittcon participants on your dedication to research and for representing FIU everywhere you go!