M&M 2017 STL Round-up

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Saint Louis, Missouri was the venue for this year’s Microscopy & Microanalysis; the Microscopy Society of America’s (MSA) annual meeting, which was extra special this year as it celebrated the 75th anniversary of the society’s founding in 1942. The plenary session is always a grand affair with presidents of the MSA and Microanalysis Society (MAS also celebrated its 50th anniversary) welcoming and thanking the attendees for coming and presenting awards to long serving, hard-working society members and distinguished scientists alike. There are also awards for deserving students, post-docs and technical staff, something that I fully applaud. These awards carry a travel bursary and oral presentation to allow the recipients to fully engage in the meeting.

Besides this the plenary session has two invited keynote speakers: this year Nobel Prize winner Eric Betzig, and Keith Riles kept the audience riveted as they covered two length scales that could barely be further apart. Eric, for those of you who may not know, was one of the developers of super-resolution microscopy through the mid-2000’s, specifically in the area known as PALM. If you haven’t been lucky enough to hear him speak you’ll find his style quite down to earth, understated, and matter of fact; however, utterly brilliant. The story of how he came to achieve super-resolution was just the beginning of the talk, what followed was the genius of someone who, along with his many collaborators, seems unwilling to stop innovating in the pursuit of imaging, using light microscopy techniques at low doses and high resolutions, to unlock the understanding that he and others seek concerning cells and their mechanisms. Needless to say by the donut and coffee break, there was quite a buzz!

Prior to the second speaker I took time to look at the 200 or so slides that had been compiled by Mike Marko covering the development of microscopy since the MSA’s inception in 1942. It was a real treat and gave a sense of history and accomplishment to all that we now do to extend that work. Keith Riles was different in comparison, however, equally engaging as he explained the LIGO sensor system and the search for and detection of gravimetric waves. I was blown away by the planning and scale of this work, as with many astronomy projects, but the attempts to capture signals so rare, weak and until now theoretical almost defy belief. Keith brought some props to illustrate some key concepts of his work which I feel were appreciated by those less than clued-up on the motions of interacting black holes or other massive stellar bodies. Keith and colleagues, some of whom have been working in the field for 40 or 50 years (!) have such determination and patience to work on the scale they do, taking around five years to upgrade the LIGO detectors from 2010 – 2015. Happily there was an improvement in the detection levels and since the system was reactivated to listen, two gravimetric waves appear to have been detected and of course work continues. Suitably primed for the science to come the attendees left the auditorium and headed to check out the exhibition hall.

A week amongst friends

The M&M exhibition is something to behold with its huge impressive stands that seems to have increasing numbers of giant flat screens displaying all manner of colourful animations and rendered data from the many vendors. As the global media in Microscopy, we like to think that we have many friends on the floor and this meeting confirmed that hope as we renewed friendships, made new contacts and discovered what was new. There was a great buzz on the floor as delegates and vendors interacted, as was there on social media, particularly using the #MM2017STL hashtag. The MSA and MAS encouraged this and had a screen dedicated to the twitter feed and @MicroscopyViews had some great interactions with the newly formed council making our experience more personal and connected at what is a huge meeting.

I recorded a slew of videos (I'll post them separately) with many companies as they showed of new products and we also had a visit from former MSA president and this year’s MSA physical sciences distinguished scientist award winner Nestor Zaluzec as well as this year’s president Ian M Anderson, who popped in for a chat on the last day of the conference. Ian and I had a chat about the conference on the M&A sofa and you can watch it below.

Chris Parmenter talks to Ian M Anderson, MSA President

In total the meeting attracted around 2900 people, including 1200 exhibitors and 1700 delegates. The 36 symposia covered a diverse range of microscopy techniques and were complemented by special sessions celebrating the 50th anniversary of the development of the atom probe, history of microanalysis, development of cryo-TEM and aberration corrected TEM. There seemed to be many more presentations touching on multi-length scale and correlative studies and a number of sessions on the handling of big data. In the wake of significant efforts being put into automation in data acquisition, the application of machine learning to analysis has become an increasing theme over the past few years and this year was no exception. Another big reoccurring topic is in situ microscopy, this can include heating, liquid, gas, electrical biasing or mechanical deformation or probing in the TEM, SEM and or X-ray CT and follows the trend to acquire and understand the fourth dimension of data that is time. Needless to say there were the classically supported high-resolution techniques including corrected TEM and the increasingly popular cryo-EM too. All around I’d imaging that most attendees left St Louis enlightened and engaged, feeling that the week had been a valuable experience having made plenty of new connections and gaining insight to what they need to consider in their first weeks back in the lab. M&M2018 is in Baltimore, MD from 5th to 9th August 2018, and I for one can’t wait!

Chris Parmenter, Editor, M&A





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