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Rebooted and upgraded - SLAS2012 Show Preview
SAN DIEGO—It’s not often that an event is simultaneously held for the 16th time, the 18th time and the first time, but that’s exactly the feat that the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) is managing to pull off with its first annual conference and exhibition in Southern California, to be held Feb. 4-8 at the San Diego Convention Center.
Spring 2010 saw the merger of the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) and the Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) to form the SLAS, but ALA’s LabAutomation2011—the 15th annual LabAutomation show—and SBS’s 17th annual conference and exhibition were conducted separately because both events were already locked in and too far along in the planning stages to abort or alter substantially. In 2012, though, the ALA and SBS portions of the SLAS membership will come together at the same time for the first time.
According to SLAS CEO Greg Dummer, this watershed event isn’t simply a reboot, or even a mash-up—it’s a whole new creation with a strong sense of tradition, along with added features that will enhance the experience for both portions of the SLAS membership.
“I think our challenge this year is to maintain that high level of personal interaction that’s been a hallmark of our history as separate organizations and maintain that sense of intimacy, at the same time as we’re adding more value and bringing these two groups of people together officially for the first time,” Dummer says. “The branding is new because this is the first SLAS annual meeting, but the content is consistent with offerings at past events for ALA and SBS. There is something that everyone can be comfortable with, but at the same time, we are expanding content and pushing into new areas. That goes to the heart of why you have a professional society to begin with. You get the cross-fertilization of all these different scientific disciplines and allowing people to have cross talk. There’s just a higher level of that now.”
The program planning committee approached it as if it was starting a new legacy, notes Dan Sipes, co-chair of the SLAS2012 Scientific Program Committee, “which, of course, we were,” he says. “But we started with fresh eyes realizing that it will change in the future. We pulled together a certain format to provide a baseline and a template, but it’s designed to evolve into the future.”
One of the main challenges, according to Sipes, was in combining the immense amount of content into one program.
“We couldn’t simply be additive and combine the equivalent of the ALA and SBS programs into one because it would be too much content and ultimately dilutive,” he says. “Because this is so new, putting together a strong program in all the necessary tracks was challenging, especially in terms of picking the highest-quality talks with only a few days to do it in. We basically 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 that made it interesting to hit the right kind of balance.”
“We’re literally setting a benchmark with this first annual meeting, and the key is to learn from what we’ve done—both successes and things we could do better—and then after running out the conference, see what members got from the program and what their feedback is, react to that and adjust thereafter,” adds Dr. Frank Fan, the other co-chair. “But I think we’ve figured out how to run a meeting in a short timeframe and not overwhelm people, while also giving them lots of useful content.
“We’ve installed some great mechanisms going forward,” Fan continues. “The program chairs for the 2013 event were on the program committee, and they’ve participated in the whole planning process this year, so that gave them a good idea as to how things run. That, along with all of us attending the conference and then getting member feedback, will be huge to continued success and improvements going forward.”
Many of the professionals at the SLAS home office near Chicago come from the former ALA, the co-chairs note, and one of the concepts that Dummer—who was executive director of the ALA—brought over was a sort of tripod concept of “the three E’s,” in which the program planners give more or less equal weight to the education aspect, which is the scientific program; the experience 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 meeting brings attendees more than 300 posters, more than 130 scientific presentations, more than 20 short courses, more than 275 exhibitors, some 15 SLAS special interest groups meeting at the event and six organizations with which SLAS has some kind of alignment and relationship with in major conference events.
“We’ve got more than 55,000 square feet of exhibition space and more than 40 new companies that have never been at any of our conferences before,” he adds.
“This is the first combined society annual conference, and I see it being something that people should attend because it really expresses the core values represented by the two parts of the society and all members can expect to see their content and interests covered,” says Fan, who serves as a director of research at Madison, Wis.-based Promega Corp. “But another reason to come is that this merged society is also aiming to explore new territories—that was part of the board's strategic plan when the SLAS was created. Therefore, there will be new things to see, new tracks and new directions as well as familiar subjects and events.”
As challenging as it was to put together such an ambitious program for two distinct sets of SLAS members, everything came together quite nicely, says Sipes, the director of advanced automation technologies at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, and the content from each side looks like it will complement the other nicely. For his part, Fan notes that he’s never been part of organizing such a large and complex event and to his surprise, “we finished everything in terms of the scientific program three or four months before the meeting start. Usually, you see all sorts of 11th-hour actions to get things together, but that wasn’t the case here.”
Dummer expects between 4,400 and 5,000 people will be at the event, and based on registrations so far, when he spoke to ddn in late December, attendance was tracking at 3 percent ahead of project levels. In addition, the exhibit hall had already been expanded twice by 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 Dummer says, “We already have the keynote speakers for that event and will start marketing that next as soon as we’re done with SLAS2012. The strategy is to alternate between the East Coast and West Coast. For the foreseeable future, it will be between San Diego and Orlando, but because we have so many members higher up the coast, we might look farther northeast at times going forward.”
For more information, visit the SLAS2012 website at www.slas2012.org/ or the SLAS main website at www.slas.org/. Also on the electronic front, Dummer notes that mobile apps have been created to make it easier for convention attendees to schedule their time and navigate the exhibit floor.
SLAS elects three new members of the board of directors
ST. CHARLES, Ill.—The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) elected new members to the board of directors, whose terms commence Jan. 31. They are Dr. Frank Fan, a director of research at Madison, Wis.-based Promega Corp.; Robyn Rourick, the senior manager of study operations at Genentech in San Francisco; and Daniel Sipes, the director of advanced automation technologies at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation.
“SLAS is pleased to announce and welcome three highly qualified individuals as members to the SLAS board of directors,” says Michelle Palmer, president of SLAS. “Adding the expertise and diversity of Frank Fan, Robyn Rourick and Daniel Sipes will help SLAS fulfill its mission of being the preeminent global organization for laboratory science and technology professionals.”
Fan’s group at Promega focuses on developing assays and technologies for cellular analysis and drug discovery, and previously he was a senior investigator in the anti-infectives division at GlaxoSmithKline. Rourick brings more than 20 years of industrial experience in development, direction and management of pharmaceutical sciences, analytical chemistry, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics, and at Genentech she oversees non-clinical studies for multiple therapeutic programs. Sipes is responsible for development of hardware and assay technologies to support large-scale cellular profiling and 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 of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Palmer, who is at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.
Eight emerging entrepreneurial companies to participate in Innovation AveNEW
ST. CHARLES, Ill.—As entrepreneurial companies continue to experience challenges while facing unstable economic conditions, the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) will provide eight emerging companies from around the world with the opportunity to showcase their innovations through the Innovation AveNEW program at the First Annual SLAS Conference 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-up companies operating within the laboratory science and technology field “a forum for positive, collaborative interaction and exposure for their product and/or service concept,” according to SLAS. Innovation AveNEW will be presented in a specially designated area on the SLAS2012 exhibit floor.
As described by the SLAS, “The Innovation AveNEW program affords selected emerging entrepreneurial companies the opportunity to actively engage and participate in a world-class event by providing free exhibit space and travel. The program will help participants to grow and scale their businesses as well as directly connect them with more than 5,000 purchasing influencers and decision-makers from more than 40 countries.”
Industries covered by SLAS2012’s scientific program
SLAS2012 educational tracks
Nine finalists vie for $10,000 SLAS Innovation Award
One of the traditions carried over from the ALA to the SLAS annual meetings is the SLAS Innovation Award, and the organization recently named the nine finalists who will vie for the $10,000 prize.
The SLAS Innovation Award recognizes the top SLAS2012 podium presenter who, according to SLAS, “put forth research that demonstrates outstanding innovation and contributes to the exploration of laboratory technologies.” The panel of judges that selected these nine finalists based on their submitted abstracts will evaluate each of the finalists’ podium presentations at SLAS2012 and then select the overall best presentation as the award recipient.
“The SLAS Innovation Award honors the work behind that one unique presentation at SLAS2012 that is exceedingly innovative in the exploration of new technologies or advancement of mature technologies,” says Dr. Jörg Kutter, chair of the SLAS Innovation Award Panel of Judges. “All of our finalists have submitted presentations that will benefit the scientific community, and the panel of judges is looking forward to determining the award recipient at the First Annual SLAS Conference and Exhibition.”
The award recipient will be announced Wednesday, Feb. 8 during the SLAS2012 closing keynote session featuring Dr. Robert Ballard, a professor at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and founder and president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium.
Investing in the future
SAN DIEGO—SLAS2012 features much not just for working professionals, but also for the next generation of working professionals, notes SLAS CEO Greg Dummer. As part of that, SLAS offered 39 academic scholarships to allow students to attend.
“We also pay for their flights and hotel rooms,” Dummer says, “and that number of scholarships is a pretty big one for a group our size.”
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 fresh program 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 Thomas Jefferson School of Law with grad students only for the opportunity to get face to face with real pros and get real-world insights about what awaits them after graduation,” Dummer explains. Also involved with putting the event together is the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
he event will be held Saturday, Feb. 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
As described in the SLAS2012 program materials on the SLAS website, the event allows students “an opportunity to get face to face with front line professionals, gain real world insight on how to launch and build successful careers in laboratory science and automation and enjoy casual conversation, wine and cheese with other students, practicing scientists, special guests and VIPs.”
There will also be a student poster competition that offers a $750 cash award for most outstanding poster presentation, a $500 cash award for second place and $250 for third place.
In addition, in an offering called “Life After Graduation and Career Coaching,” presented by the American Chemical Society, there will be two early-morning breakfast workshops to help students get the most from their conference experience and assist them in job searching.
The Monday morning session on Feb. 6 focuses on how to network at a technical meeting, with SLAS noting of the session that “everyone has uncertainties about how to attend meetings and make them work for you and your career. This session will review critical activities that can make a difference for you—networking conversations, practice with small talk, listening skills and body language.” The Monday session will also offer input on résumé and cover letter writing, giving tips on how to structure them and explaining the distinction between curriculum vitaes, résumés and more.
The Tuesday morning session on Feb. 7 begins with “The Interviewing Continuum” to, as SLAS describes, help students “look in the mirror” to see themselves as a candidate for a professional position.
“Would you hire the person you see in front of you?” SLAS asks. “This is the question you effectively ask each representative who interviews you.”
The Tuesday session will also feature mock interviews to teach interviewing principles. The audience will provide feedback and industrial 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 available by appointment at the SLAS Member Center.
(For more information about the show, focusing on social events and local attractions, click here)