Spring is finally here, and you know what else that means – conference season is back! Now is an opportunity to meet chemists from all over to learn about what is happening in the world of science. Sanji Bahl is the Director of the Marketing and Communications team here at ACD/Labs, and she had a chance to attend both Lab of the Future and PittCon in March. We talked about her experience and what she is seeing as the most important trends in chemistry.

This is the last episode of season 3 of the Analytical Wavelength – plan to return with season 4 in the fall of 2023, though we may share a bonus episode over the summer, so don’t forget to subscribe!

Read the full transcript

00:00  Sanji Bhal

Human beings, we’re all about connection. And I think this opportunity to be at conferences and meet face to face gives us the ability to remake and forge those personal human interactions again.

00:11  Sarah Srokosz

Even though some days might not feel like it here in Toronto. Spring is finally here. I don’t know about you, but I’m loving these little glimpses of sunshine and warmer temperatures.

00:33  Jesse Harris

Absolutely. And you know what that means, conference season is back. Now is an opportunity to meet chemists from all over and learn what is happening in the world of science.

00:43  Sarah Srokosz

Hi, I’m Sarah.

00:45  Jesse Harris

And I’m Jessie. This is the Analytical Wavelength, a podcast about chemistry and chemical data. Brought to you by ACD/Labs.

00:53  Sarah Srokosz

Earlier in the season, we shared with you news from SMASH, one of the first major NMR conferences post-COVID. With conference season starting up for 2023, we thought it would be good to talk with someone who had a chance to meet with these scientists at events.

01:08  Jesse Harris

Luckily, there is someone we both know well that fits the bill. Sanji Bhal is the Director of the Marketing and Communications team here at ACD/Labs. She had a chance to attend both Lab of the Future and Pittcon this past March.

01:23  Sarah Srokosz

We wanted to hear about her experiences on the road and thought it would be great to share it with all of you. We hope you enjoy.

01:30  Jesse Harris

Hello and welcome to the podcast Sanji. How are you doing today?

01:33  Sanji Bhal

I’m doing very well, thank you. And how are you?

01:36  Jesse Harris

I’m doing great. I’m doing great.

01:38  Sarah Srokosz

Yeah, all good over here. So, Sanji, we’re going to start off with our question that we ask all of our guests, which is what is your favorite chemical?

01:47  Sanji Bhal

Okay. And I’m going to throw it, throw you for a loop right at the beginning, which is can I change it from my favorite chemical to my favorite mineral instead?

01:57  Jesse Harris

Well, we’ll accept that, we’ll accept that.

01:58  Sanji Bhal

All right. So then it’s sodium chloride.

02:03  Jesse Harris


02:04  Sanji Bhal

Because… you want to know why?

02:06  Jesse Harris

Yeah. Yeah.

02:07  Sanji Bhal

So I’m a bit of a salt fiend. You know, we have problems with eating too much sugar in our diet these days. And I have to say, sugar is not my downfall. It really is salty snacks that are that I reach for. So sodium chloride is definitely my favorite mineral.

02:26  Jesse Harris

That that’s a good choice. And a tasty one is that that would be pretty high on my list, too. So let’s get into things. You had a chance in the last month to attend a couple of conferences—Lab of the Future and Pittcon. Can you explain what these are for people who might not be familiar with these events?

02:45  Sanji Bhal

Sure. So Lab of the Future is a meeting that was… I think is the very first Lab of the Future meeting happened perhaps just before COVID. I think the year before COVID. You know, these days we live in before COVID and after COVID times. So I think it was 2019, the first year of Lab of the Future. And it brings together, I want to say, scientists and kind of those who are on the cusp of IT and science.

Someone said to me not too long ago there was something, they call them IT Whisperers, you know, a scientist who learned enough about programing and informatics systems and applications and things to be able to talk to the IT people and talk to scientists and have an understanding of both. So I want to say Lab of the Future pulls together that kind of audience, and they talk about those, you know, the kinds of topics those people would care about.

So they’re not talking about, you know, innovative techniques in lab, laboratory work per se, but they’re talking about the tools and the influences of technology and how all of those are going to push for innovation and changes in the lab so that we already the future. They do this meeting both in the U.S. and in Europe. And so they do one each. And the meeting that I had the fortune to go to most recently was the meeting in the U.S. It was actually in Boston.

04:18  Jesse Harris

Great. So what about Pittcon?

04:22  Sanji Bhal

And Pittcon, it’s a bit of an oddly named one. So I had a conversation with someone about this recently. I said, Pittcon, does that not mean Pittsburgh conference? So it was a meeting that started in Pittsburgh many, many moons ago now. I would say it’s the biggest analytical chemistry conference in North America. It used to be very much, in its heyday, which was perhaps 15 or so years ago, used to attract something like 20-25,000 people.

I’ve never seen a Pittcon of that size. Unfortunately, though, I hear many stories about it and they used to need some kind of golf cart train or something that used to ferry delegates from one end of the exhibition to the other and, you know, transport people from where the exhibition was happening to presentations and things because it was just so large.

It may not be so large anymore, but I want to say it still attracts people who care about analytical chemistry, its applications, its uses, and also the, you know, analytical chemists and the instrument vendors will also be present. So it brings together that community of people who care about analytical chemistry and excuses and innovations, etc.

05:39  Sarah Srokosz

Well, I can’t believe that they actually had a little train, but what about you? When was the last time that you were actually at a trade show in person? And what was it like to be back? Do people seem excited to be back in person or is it just kind of business as usual?

05:56  Sanji Bhal

Oh, no. People are very excited right now and it’s actually infectious being in that kind of atmosphere. So before Lab of the Future, which was in early March, I want to say, I was… my last conference was Pittcon in March of 2020. So we literally closed down the convention center. It was in Chicago that year and we were told as we were leaving that Pittcon was the last conference that was going or exhibition of any kind that was going to be happening at the Chicago Convention Center because the following week they had wiped everything off the books and the convention center was going to be closing down.

So that Pittcon was a very different experience than this one.

06:42  Jesse Harris

It sounds that way. Yes, I imagine that there’d be a very different vibe in the place, for sure. But you know, speaking specifically about the science, I guess, between those two, you know, times, especially with that makeup, I imagine that’s most obvious there of the before and after. What are the things that people are focusing on scientifically, both like pre-COVID and post-COVID?

Have things kind of picked up where they left off? Or do you think that the interests and you know questions of chemists have, you know, transitioned over those last couple of years?

07:15  Sanji Bhal

So I think there have been some changes. Now, it would be a little bit unfair of me to speak too much to what’s going on in the scientific presentations. For example, at Pittcon, I wasn’t actually I think I managed to go to one session, but my other duties and running around at Pittcon meant I didn’t manage to go to really very many or any other scientific sessions.

But just from the conversations that, you know, I can speak to the conversations we had on the exposition floor. I went I did manage to go to some of the sessions at Lab of the Future, and I think the differences in what we’re seeing, you know, people are still talking about efficiency and productivity and trying to do more with less. And I think those are themes that continue through R&D. You know, even if you were to take a snapshot ten years ago or 20 years ago or perhaps even ten years into the future, I feel like those topics and themes would not change.

The thing that has a renewed or a bigger focus, I want to say after COVID is something that we’ve seen at just from our conversations with customers and prospects through, you know, ACD/Labs and the team and the colleagues that I’ve spoken to, which is there’s a bigger focus on remote access to data, what can be done when you’re not in the lab, digitalization. One of the really fascinating presentations that I went to at Lab of the Future was there were a couple of companies talking about a build of lab space and new buildings that were basically put together for scientists, for R&D scientists in particular. And it was fascinating to me because they were talking about things like, you know, sensors in the floor to understand better what instruments were being used. People were congregating within the building, what labs were getting most usage. Those are not things I’ve thought about, you know, previous to that. So I know we have this world of the Internet of Things and everything and you know, you can collect data on so many, on so many facets of things if you want to. And obviously you can know how much an instrument is running just from, you know, logs and things like that. You know, how much how much is this LC/MS equipment being used as opposed to this LC/MSequipment? You know, that kind of data has been available for decades, I want to say probably. But this idea of using smarter technology, you know, we talk about smart homes. Well, we’re building smart labs now, apparently, and we’re trying to do, you know, not even more with less, but use of space more efficiently, make sure that capital investments in lab, you know, instruments and laboratories just in general are so that they work better for the scientists. They work better for the organization. It’s really streamlining so many things that I’d never thought about.

10:15  Sarah Srokosz

I love that so much. It’s like doing science about where and how to do science.

10:22  Sanji Bhal

That’s a great way of putting it.

10:24  Sarah Srokosz

So you mentioned a minute ago that you had some conversations with scientists, you know, out on the conference floor. You were at the ACD/Labs booth a good bit of the time, I’m sure. Is there any memorable conversations or exchanges that you can share with us?

10:41  Sanji Bhal

Yeah. So I guess I’m going to use this opportunity to summarize many. And one of the things I’ve been I’m still fascinated about, I’ve been with ACD/Labs now for, say, something like 16 years, and it’s still fascinating to me that we go out to conferences and, you know, we present oral presentations and we have posters, but without fail, at least a handful of times at any conference, people will come up and they’ll take a look at some of the materials or they’ll have been to a presentation or read a poster and they say, “Can you really bring all of that data together? And how do you do it?”

Or, you know, I’m paraphrasing, but there was a gentleman who came up to us at Pittcon and said, “I am I am wading through data from at least 15 years. Some of those instruments are no longer functional in the lab, but I’m going through boxes and boxes of paper of spectra, and its valuable information that’s sitting within our four walls. But I don’t know how many clones of me are going to be necessary in order to go through all of that data and digitalize it somehow. And can you possibly help me with that?”

And it is very gratifying to have that person leave with some sense of, you know, it’s not all doom and we can do something and perhaps we’ll be able to work together to make it that, to make that really useful work a lot easier.

We talk a lot about having lots of analytical data streams, whether it’s different techniques or formats from different instrument vendors, and everyone really struggles with it, you know, and it’s something that they don’t, you know, even though they may see it, they may read about it, you know, they go, they go, they read something, they read a line and something, and they’ll just glance through it.

But when you actually sit and have a conversation with them, when they happen by you on the exposition floor and you have a conversation with them, it’s a pain for so many people and it’s something that they’re really trying to deal with. And so it feels really good to be able to give them, I guess, a sense of relief that this is something that could change in their future and it doesn’t need to continue to be this way. It doesn’t need to be so taxing and so difficult to make what is their data and information, really meaningful assets for their organization.

13:11  Jesse Harris

Yeah, and it’s it feels really good that we have that, you know, core competence that matches with this need of the scientists who are actually in the lab. But one that’s related to this and I want to talk to you about was the announcement that came around Pittcon of the partnership with the Extractables and Leachables Safety Information Exchange, also known as ELSIE. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

13:35  Sanji Bhal

Yeah. So this is actually a really good segway because we’re still talking about knowledge management. So the announcement that happened at Pittcon was a collaboration that ACD/Labs are doing with the ELSIE consortium because ELSE have been, they’re a well-established group who think all about the ways that extractables and leachables data can be shared. So it’s the safety and material data around that kind of work.

They’ve been established for quite a long time now and they have, you know, a very good reputation in that community. And they came they came to us, I want to say, several, several years ago about wanting to expand the kind of knowledge that they already had started to create for their community and expand it to things that others weren’t necessarily able to help them to manage for the community and make it available in a way that was going to be intuitive and easy.

And so that was the collaboration that we announced. So we will be we, are working with ELSIE right now to create a backend database system that will help manage extractables and leachables for safety and toxicity data, toxicological data, that can then be searched through a browser-based interface by the consortium members.

14:55  Sarah Srokosz

That sounds pretty impressive. So Pittcon generally marks the beginning of conferences for a lot of people for the year and I think for us as well. So as you look back on these kind of two first events for the year, do you have any final thoughts that you want to share?

15:15  Sanji Bhal

Really, I just think that it’s one, it’s fantastic to be back face to face, as you said, Pittcon, I think in North America is the beginning of conference season, or, you know, the big major conference season for a lot of organizations, but it’s almost the same in parallel in Europe as well. You know, this is the time of year that a lot of the big conferences are happening there, and they may be big in a different way. You know, they’re based on, you know, individual countries. But we have a lot of colleagues who are doing the first meeting that is back fully in person again this year. And there really is some excitement. So you mentioned earlier, there are, you know, is it the same kind of business as usual? And it’s really not. I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm right now for people who are going to conferences.

Not only are they able to go out and meet colleagues, you know, who may they may not have had an opportunity to interact with very much over the last couple of weeks. But I feel like as a broader scientific community, it’s not just speaking to our colleagues, but people move around. You know, it is a small enough community. And so you may have friends who worked in a different organization or, you know, in a different lab. And a lot of these conferences are the opportunity for those scientists to come together and, you know, exchange what’s happened in their personal lives over the last year since they last met. Human beings, we’re all about connection. And I think this opportunity to be at conferences and meet face to face gives us the ability to remake and, you know, forge those personal human interactions again.

And so it’s really great to see the enthusiasm by which everyone’s coming to conferences now. I hope it continues. Obviously, the virtual world is not quite the same. You may be able to take away information. You know, you can listen to a presentation, but it’s hard to make a connection with the speaker and with other people who may be in the room that you also want, you know, have more questions for and want to build a connection with.

That is almost impossible in the virtual world. So it is really I guess my takeaway from all of this is that, you know, I hope that it continues. I can’t imagine anything like COVID coming to us again. But, you know, human beings are social animals. And I hope we have the time, we have the time and opportunity to see each other face to face more and more.

17:34  Jesse Harris

Of course. Yes. Excellent. So thank you very much for your time today and sharing that experience. It’s been wonderful. Thank you very much.

17:42  Sanji Bhal

Thank you.

17:43  Sarah Srokosz

Thanks, Sanji. Well, I’m excited to hit the road after that conversation.

17:49  Jesse Harris

For sure. If anyone wants to meet up with us at any upcoming events, be sure to check out our website where we have a complete list of upcoming conferences and trade shows, and we’ll include a link to that in the show notes.

18:02  Sarah Srokosz

There will also be a link there to the press release about our partnership with ELSE, for anyone who wants to learn more.

18:08  Jesse Harris

This is the last episode of this season of the Analytical Wavelength. It’s been fascinating to explore such a wide range of topics with all of you, and we wanted to share an extra special thanks to everyone who’s listened to us this year.

18:21  Sarah Srokosz

The next season will begin in the fall, though we might drop some bonus tracks in the feed over the summer. If you’ve been enjoying the show, we would really appreciate it if you’d recommend it to a colleague or share it on social media.

18:33  Jesse Harris

You can also reach out to us by email at marketing@acdlabs.com with any feedback or ideas for future episodes.

18:41  Sarah Srokosz

This has been The Analytical Wavelength. See you next time.

The Analytical Wavelength is brought to you by ACD/Labs. We create software to help scientists make the most of their analytical data by predicting molecular properties and by organizing and analyzing their experimental results. To learn more, please visit us at www.acdlabs.com

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