On this last day at #pittcon15, we’re excited to introduce a new feature from The Pump Post, the “10 Questions with…” series, in which we interview notables from the science world. Please enjoy Part 1 of our interview with Michelle Taylor, from Laboratory Equipment magazine. Part 2 of this interview will be published on the final day of ACS Spring, March 24, 2015.
1. What is your role at Laboratory Equipment magazine?
I am the Editor-in-Chief of the Laboratory Equipment brand. The brand includes the flagship monthly print magazine, which has been published for over 50 years, as well the associated website and e-newsletters. It also comprises other print and digital supplements, including Chromatography Techniques, Academic Sourceguide and LabOutlook. It’s a neat position to be in because—forgive the cliché—I really do learn something new every day. Between research news published on our website daily, and my interviews with fascinating scientists and thought-leaders, it would be impossible not to learn. I feel like I’m in an interesting science class, and they pay me to attend rather than vise-versa!
2. What lab trends captured your interest in 2014?
One of the elements that became clear to me in the beginning of 2014 was the increased role of microscopy in the routine analytical process. Scientists need more precise high-res techniques, as evidenced by Eric Betzig sharing a piece of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his super-res microscopy techniques. With microscopy growing as fast and drastically as it is, I saw a lot of interest in hybrid and hyphenated systems in 2014. Microscopy was teamed with everything from an EDS spectrometer to a MALDI TOF/TOF in the battle to see and measure on an increasingly small scale. This dependence on and evolution of microscopy will only grow as imaging’s role in science is expected to skyrocket in the next decade.
Another trend was instrument miniaturization. While that has been an idea for a while, it became particularly evident in 2014 with compact spectrometers. Packing the capabilities of a spectrometer into an instrument just a tad bigger than the human hand is an incredible accomplishment. This will undoubtedly advance the idea of personal spectrometers for “home use,” such as checking your water to see if it is contaminated, as well as point-of-case applications in the clinical setting.
3. What are some of the biggest drivers for evolution in the industry? Is it a particular need from lab personnel? Better technology? New applications?
I see societal needs as the biggest driver of the science industry. Just as the commercial industry runs on supply and demand, the science industry reacts to what is happening around it. The changing climate is something we will have to adapt to, and it’s the scientists that will help us do that. Climate change encompasses numerous industries in science, but specifically, I think developments in food and energy will be biggest drivers for evolution.
Additionally, we will, of course, benefit from better technology—this trend will not stop for a number of years. We are in the middle of a technological revolution, so we might as well grab hold and reap the benefits. I am hoping we will see an increase in knowledgeable lab personnel, but I fear we may still be years away from that. As a country, I don’t think we have found the correct higher education formula to produce experienced lab personnel. But, hands-on programs, fellowships and internships are growing, so we’re headed in the right direction.
4. With 2014 in the books, do you have any predictions or expectations for the lab world in the coming year?
Absolutely. I expect this to be a big year for nanotechnology and biotechnology/biomedical. Nanotechnology is fast becoming one of the biggest industries we’ve seen in a while- the applications just keep growing. It deals with anything from water contamination to medicine to natural gas and petroleum. In 10 years’ time, I think nanotechnology research and breakthroughs will play a role in almost every aspect of our lives, whether it’s in the forefront (like e-screens) or in the background (like medication).
Biotechnology’s main capabilities lie in medicine, fuel and food, which also happen to be arguably the three most important elements of humans’ future existence. The baby boomers are all grown up now and experiencing a higher life expectancy than anticipated. Fuel is a problem on Earth and in space. We only just started making our own plutonium-238 to fuel our rockets, and political agendas raise questions about fuel to feed our cars. Fracking is a major controversy, as well as the Keystone XL. I expect science, specifically biotechnology, to play an increasing role in solving these problems. Lastly, “soon” there will not be enough food to feed the growing population. I think biotechnology will have its biggest impact here. The manipulation of food, or genetically modified organisms, is one of the only ways to ensure a safe, healthy food supply for years to come.
5. With the current economic climate within the laboratory industry, how do you see the impact of used equipment on the market?
Used equipment definitely has its place in the scientific market, as does new equipment. I view them as a kind of ying and yang. Both are important, and both are crucial to discovery and innovation. Used equipment always get more attention in times of economic distress (as it should) because for some labs, it provides the only alternative to keep going. That’s an important role to have, and it further emphasizes the impact used equipment can have on the market.