Neal Dando, President Pittcon 2021

INTERVIEW: Neal Dando, President Pittcon 2021

This year’s Pittsburgh Conference (Pittcon 2021) – from 8-12 March and on demand until 12 June – is taking place virtually. Food Engineering & Ingredients speaks to Neal Dando, Pittcon 2021 President about the new format.


Neal Dando, President Pittcon 2021

Neal Dando, President Pittcon 2021



Food Engineering & Ingredients: Pittcon 2021 in March is being held virtually. How has this changed the way you organize the event? What are some of the main challenges you have faced in putting the virtual event together – and how have you resolved these?


Neal Dando: Planning for Pittcon starts more than a year in advance of the Conference. When we started detailed planning for Pittcon 2021 (in Q1 2020), we began by executing our normal production process for a F2F show. By late Q2, 2020 it became apparent that we would have to pivot to a virtual-only Conference. An upfront challenge for us was the lack of precedent for large technical, virtual-only conferences. Over Q3, 2020 we quickly worked to evaluate virtual platform partners as well as attend virtual-only conferences that became available during this time. Based on our research, we opted to professionally re-record conference presentations in order to maximize quality and minimize potential accessibility disruptions. A large difference between F2F and virtual conferences is the advance scheduling and preparation required to build out the exposition booths and pre-record all talks. This presents a timing challenge can be a surprise to exhibitors and presenters if they have not participated in a virtual event previously.


FEI: Is there a specific theme for Pittcon 2021? If so, can you tell us more about this?

ND: We have invested significant efforts to maximize the connectivity aspects of our Conference. A concern inherent in virtual programming is how to enable or facilitate physical engagement. The virtual platform we’ve developed incorporates a number of novel elements and features designed for enabling the serendipitous “A-Ha” moments that often occur during F2F conferences. On a lighter note, Pittcon 2021 was originally intended to take place in New Orleans. We worked with New Orleans Convention Center staff to incorporate visual elements features to create a virtual aspects of New Orleans for our attendees.


FEI: What key new trends in the industry have you noticed in the past year? For example, a move to ‘green’ sourcing, production processes. What do you think is driving these trends?

ND: People are increasingly embracing the fact that we must all do our part to combat the ongoing and worsening effects of climate change. This desire is also felt in the convention industry and encouraging transitions to lower energy, lower waste, reduced footprint options for show organizers. This trend is driven by attendee demand.


FEI: Is there any new tech recently introduced, or on the horizon, that you think will have a significant impact on the industry? Can you tell us a bit about this new tech?

ND: Covid-19 has made the answer to this question rather apparent. Our ability to rapidly characterize diseases and develop vaccines and other forms of effective treatments is absolutely unprecedented. This growing capability stems from the development and application of advanced characterization tools. We are very fortunate that many of the companies that commercially offer these technologies are exhibiting at Pittcon 2021.


FEI: Can you tell us about some of the speakers who will be giving talks at Pittcon – and, without giving too much away, can you tell us what they will be discussing?

Joseph Powell, Ph.D., Shell Chief Scientist - Chemical Engineering - is the 2021 Coulter Lecture guest speaker.

Joseph Powell, Ph.D., Shell Chief Scientist – Chemical Engineering – is the 2021 Coulter Lecture guest speaker.

ND: Pittcon 2021 was originally intended to be located in New Orleans. Given the importance of the energy industry in the region we elected to choose our featured speaker from the energy industry. At Pittcon 2021, the Coulter Lecturer will be Joseph Powell, Shell Chief Scientist – Chemical Engineering. [Powell’s lecture is entitled The Industrial Laboratory for Energy and Chemicals: Past, Present, and Future.] Joe will discuss the challenges facing the energy industry as well as opportunities and future directions for meeting future global energy demand. This is a very important and relevant topic, given rising global interest in defining and executing on actionable goals for mitigating climate change


FEI: Can you tell us about some of the symposia you have lined up?

ND: Pittcon’s Technical Program focuses on several tracks. These tracks are: Energy, Environmental, Bioanalytical, Cannabis, Food Science/Agriculture, Forensics/Toxicology, Industry/Manufacturing, Nanotechnology/Material Science, Life Sciences and Pharma.

A subset of the symposia we have dedicated to some of these tracks are:

BIOANALYTICAL: Emerging Technologies for Precision Diagnostics of Infections and Infectious Diseases High-Throughput Digital Biological Assays: Single Molecules to Single Cells

ENERGY: Advanced Analytical Techniques in the Study of Energy Storage Materials

CANNABIS: Cannabis in 2021: Analytical Challenges and Impacts on Driving and Public Health Analysis Methods for Cannabis – From Plants to Commercial Products

ENVIRONMENTAL: Detecting, Quantifying, and Evaluating PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl Substrates) Exposures in the Environment IAEAC – Thinking Outside of the Box: What is the Role of Analytical Chemists in Combatting Climate Change?

FOOD SCIENCE & AGRICULTURE: Food Safety and Security Emerging Chemical Contaminants in Foods

FORENSICS & TOXICOLOGY: Analytical Challenges and Occurrence Studies Emerging Analytical Methods for Chemical and Biological Forensic Evidence NIJ – Innovations and Trends in Forensic Examination of Seized Drugs and Forensic Toxicology

INDUSTRY & MANUFACTURING: The Wallace H. Coulter Lecture – The Industrial Laboratory for Energy and Chemicals: Past, Present, and Future Characterizing Catalysts for Louisiana’s Industries

NANOTECHNOLOGY & MATERIALS SCIENCE: Nanosized Molecules, Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology for Biological Analysis and Medical Diagnostics: From Fundamental Research to Practical Applications Nature Inspired Material Science

PHARMACEUTICAL: Characterization of New Pharmaceutical Modalities to Understand Its Active and Formulated State


FEI: I see Pittcon 2021 is offering ‘virtual booths’ for exhibitors. Can you explain how these will work?

ND: Like a F2F conference, we’ll have an exposition hall where attendees will be able to enter booths and interact with booth personnel in real time via chat boxes and Zoom rooms from the convenience of their own computer. Short videos are an option that booth personnel may use to make brief descriptions of their products and services. One advantage of offering virtual booths is that you can visit the anytime, 24/7. Any questions or inquiries you post during “off-hour” periods will go directly to the booth person of your choice so they can respond at their earliest convenience.


FEI: You will be offering ‘short courses’ online. Can you tell us a bit about these? Do you think this is something you could continue in this virtual format in future Pittcon events, when the pandemic is behind us?

ND: Absolutely. Pittcon has offered on-line short courses for several years now as a complement to F2F courses. The virtual-only format of Pittcon 2021 has dramatically increased the number and range of our virtual offerings this year. We anticipate maintaining a large and growing number of virtual short course offerings in forward years as a means of extending our science outreach to those unable to attend Pittcon in person.


FEI: Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the virtual Pittcon 2021?

ND: The Pittsburgh Conference is a volunteer, non-profit organization that has been an annual event since 1950. Over 90% of the net income generated at Pittcon 2021 will be given out over the next year in the form of Teacher grants, Teacher awards, scholarships and science outreach activities. These grant, award, and outreach activities are executed by volunteers in the Society for Analytical Chemist and the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh. The impact of these efforts is felt both nationally and internationally.


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Attend Pittcon 2021.

The virtual event is demand until 12 June.

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