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International science conference organized in east suburbs

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Roy Engelbrecht Photography
Above, the exposition floor at Pittcon 2011, held in Atlanta. This year the conference will return to Pennsylvania for the first time since the late '60s, to Philadelphia.
Roy Engelbrecht Photography
Above, the exposition floor at Pittcon 2011, held in Atlanta. This year the conference will return to Pennsylvania for the first time since the late '60s, to Philadelphia.
Roy Engelbrecht Photography
Above, the exposition floor at Pittcon 2011, held in Atlanta. This year the conference will return to Pennsylvania for the first time since the late '60s, to Philadelphia.
Roy Engelbrecht Photography
Above, the exposition floor at Pittcon 2011, held in Atlanta. This year the conference will return to Pennsylvania for the first time since the late '60s, to Philadelphia.

For Tom Smith of Penn Hills, gaining access to the international scientific community from his home on Datura Drive might seem like a big challenge.

Smith owns and operates Penn Hills Scientific from his home, supplying moisture-analysis equipment and providing training and services to clients.

And surprisingly, access to a world of science and the laboratory instrumentation industry is just a short car ride away in Wilkins Township.

Smith is a regular exhibitor and conferee at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy, known colloquially as Pittcon. Its staff is based in a Penn Center office in Wilkins.

Once a year, however, the 11-member staff is joined by about 100 local volunteer scientists and educators who come together to host the world's largest annual conference for individuals who work in the laboratory science field and companies that market lab-science products.

In fact, the conference is so big, it outgrew Pittsburgh's hotel and convention-center capacity by the late 1960s. It is now hosted alternately by New Orleans, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando and this year, Philadelphia for the first time.

Smith said he looks forward to Pittcon every year as a way to shore up relations with existing clients and find new ones.

“I always have the same game plan,” he said. “Meet with current customers and vendors, and there's always a slew of them at Pittcon. I schedule meetings in advance and bolster those relationships, but just as important is meeting new clients and vendors.”

Last year in Orlando, Smith had the chance to meet with any number of the 15,754 attendees.

Pittcon Senior Marketing Communications Specialist Marian Nardozzi said 2013 will mark Pittcon's first return to Pennsylvania since 1967.

“We need a convention hall big enough for 1,000 (exhibiting companies), and enough hotel rooms to accommodate all of our conferees, (exhibitor personnel) and technical programs,” Nardozzi said.

“Philly landed this year's conference because of their recent convention center expansion.”

Smith said the conference is an invaluable resource.

“I've been to other shows, too, but Pittcon has played a very important role in setting the groundwork for my business and getting it where it is today,” he said.

Local benefits

Despite holding it far away from Pittsburgh, Pittcon officials have a deep pride in their hometown and use the conference to further science education here.

The volunteers who staff the conference come mainly from two regional groups, the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh (SACP) and the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh (SSP). SACP and SSP officials bring back proceeds from the conference, which are distributed to local educators and school districts for science programs.

Patricia Bordell, who chaired the Penn Hills School District's science department for nearly 25 years and will serve as the Pittcon 2013 Employment Chairperson, said Penn Hills students have benefited greatly from the conference's science funding.

“I believe we got at least two Spectronic 20s (used to measure the reflection or transmission properties of a material), a lot of Vernier probeware (computerized sensor technology), colorimeters (for measuring how a given solution absorbs light wavelengths), gas pressure sensors, Labpros, CBIs and so forth,” Bordell said.

“Our middle-school teachers also received several grants over the years.”

Today Bordell works at Duquesne University, another beneficiary of the conference's largesse.

“Every year the department of chemistry and biochemistry receives an SACP equipment grant. The University of Pittsburgh, California University of Pennsylvania and Waynesburg College also receive those grants,” she said.

The SACP and SSP subsidize American Chemical Society student affiliate groups at those schools, and help sponsor the annual Pittsburgh Chemistry Olympics held at the University of Pittsburgh involving about 300 local students.

Proceeds from Pittcon provide funding for college scholarships, starter grants for new Ph.D.s, equipment grants for small colleges throughout the country, public television science programs, and the Carnegie Science Center, Museum and Library.

Pittcon, SSP and SACP have been distributing local science grants since 1974.

For Smith, who has been attending Pittcon since 1983 either as an exhibitor or conferee, it's all about the conference and its opportunities for his business, but he stated plainly how he felt about the large role Pittcon played both locally and in the scientific community at large.

“It's a great place for people who have a link to science,” he said.

Pittcon 2013 is taking place this week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. For more information, visit Pittcon.org.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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