Meeting Report - MM2019 Portland

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Portland is dear in the hearts of the M&M attendees and this year will be remembered as one of the biggest and best meetings the MSA annual meeting has seen with over 3500 attendees. The show kicks off officially on Sunday evening with the welcome drinks reception, but prior to the party there is plenty of other activity in the form of the pre-meeting workshops. There is the student council mixer for students and early career staff, the council even organised a cruise along the Willamette River where senior scientists were invited to provide an opportunity for networking and mentorship. In the exhibition hall booths great and small unpacked and assembled ready for its opening at noon on Monday.

The meeting proper opened at 08.30 with welcomes from the organisers from MSA and MAS before the floor was given over to the first plenary speaker, Joachim Frank, Nobel laureate. As a joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2017 Prof Frank had plenty to tell the audience, about his contribution to the development of single particle Cryo-EM. Much of the focus of this presentation was on the development of ways to prepare and study samples of the s70 ribosome using what Frank termed time-resolved cryo-EM, which he achieved by micro-fluidic chips and spraying the sample onto a passing TEM grid before rapidly freezing. Following the presentation there were a few award presentations by the MAS and IFES before a coffee, bagel and donut break!


The plenary lecture from Joachim Frank and then Donuts!

Break over, it was time to return to the Portland Ballroom for more presentations to award winners, this time by the MAS, who awarded a range of scientists from student scholarships to distinguished scientist award level. The MAS and MSA always do a great prize giving, which at first sight may seem a little dull, however, this serves a very important part in recognising fellow microscopy professionals and those less established in their careers such as doctoral candidates, post-doctoral staff and technical staff.

With the awards over we moved onto Richard Henderson, the second of the three winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017. I’ve always found Richard to be a reflective speaker and with the title ‘Single particle cryoEM: Potential for improvement’ I had expected some history and some forward looking. This was what we got, but a masterclass in how to take a career’s worth of work and tell the story in 45 minutes! We got a step by stem improvement of the resolutions in cryo-EM thought he 1990’s, early 2000’s and the 2010’s to present day, at each step pinpointing where Henderson and colleagues identified the issues and predicted what had to change to bring improvements in resolution.

The exhibition officially opened at 12 and the delegates were finally able to explore the Aladdin’s cave of microscopy related wonders that had been constructed in the hall. One highlight was the newest offering from ThermoFisher which was under wraps until it’s unveiling. The Spectra is the newest S/TEM from the company and is the replacement for the Themis Z line. The Spectra has been redesigned from the electron gun down (with a choice of three guns) and the company says it will be configurable and upgradable to accommodate EDS systems, multiple cameras, correctors and operate at a range of accelerating voltages from 300 to 30 kV. The company also announced that there is to be a new version of the Titan Krios (V4) and a Falcon 4 director detection camera which could accompany it.

Spectra, the latest release from ThermoFisher

JEOL too had a new instrument, their new mid-range FEG system the JSM-F100, which is an in-lens Schottky FEG system that incorporates the JEOL EDS system along with a host of other convenient user-friendly features such as JEOL’s ‘Zeromag’ light to EM navigation system. The company spared no expense in having multiple SEM systems on their booth for demo, in addition to microscopes loaned to other exhibitors including Gatan.

EDAX had plenty to show off on their booth including their new faster CMOS based EBSD detectors and even a new direct detection EBSD detection system. They also demoed their newest EDS system and also an updated software, pretty impressive for one show! Not to be outdone Oxford Instruments we launching their new TEM EDS detector the Ultim Max XS which builds on previous releases for the SEM in the award winning EDS range. 

One thing that I noted were the many manufacturers who seemed to be exhibiting desktop or mini-SEM instruments (I counted 4) and also numerous companies who offered to upgrade and breathe new life to older SEM instruments with an inexpensive (compared to a new instrument) retrofit.

Not that everything was so EM focused or about analysis, there was an intriguing development for ultramicrotomy in the form of a fluorescence detection equipped microtome from RMC. This unit has been developed with Lucy Collinson at the Francis Crick Institute, London and is aimed at researchers who are trying to correlate fluorescence microscopy with EM.

PowerTome FL, developed in collboration with the Francis Crick Institute, London

Another interesting prototype on show was the grid freezing system called the Chameleon from ttplabtech, who have taken the ‘Spotiton’ technique pioneered by Bridget Caragher colleagues and added to it to offer what they hope will be a more reproducible grid prep system. The system is going to be a premium product in performance and price, however as many will know grid preparation is one of the limiting factors in the ever growing Cryo-TEM for single particle structure world. Will this be the next step in this crucial part of the cryo-TEM story? Only time will tell.

As far as the conference went, it was business as usual with the traditional multiple parallel sessions covering analytical, physical and biological sciences. I’m sure I’m not the only one who could have done with a ‘clone’ or a ‘time-turner’ to see everything I was interested in, but alas I’d forgotten to pack them. The trends in the themes of the sessions this year were a definite focus on computer aided, artificial intelligence or machine learning used to handle the data produced by modern microscopy (one of the outcomes of increased automation). Additionally there was plenty of advanced spectroscopy (EELS in particular), a number of sessions on geological or meteorite analysis (using EDS and WDS) and sessions on Atom Probe Tomography. There were a couple of sessions on soft matter and low-dose microscopy, in-situ microscopy (liquid, heating and biasing) but also X-Ray microscopy and numerous sessions on cryo-EM and various aspects of its implementation, sample prep or data handling. One thing I did miss was scanning probe microscopy, which I think may have been buried in there somewhere, along with a few sessions of light microscopy, which sometimes seem to be under represented.

All things considered a fabulous meeting where I’m sure we all made new friends and reacquainted ourselves with old ones, caught up on what’s happening in our industry and learned some new things – just as it should be. Planning for next year’s meeting is already underway in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 2-6 August. 

Chris Parmenter, Editor



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