AssMass down by the riverside

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  • Published: Aug 15, 2005
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Base Peak
thumbnail image: AssMass down by the riverside

This year's annual meeting of the ASMS broke all records on attendance for a mass spectrometry conference and came complete with two folk heroes, a fiesta alongside the San Antonio River, and more proteomics than you could digest in one sitting.

To begin at the end, it was at the fiesta finale of the 2005 annual meeting of the ASMS when we were informed that we had partaken in the largest mass spectrometry meeting ever. The attendance was more than 5700, an increase of around 400 over the previous year. This figure is all the more remarkable given the apparently unprecedented travel problems of many delegates trying to reach San Antonio. It appeared that Texan airports just could not cope with travellers or their luggage - the number of missed connections and missing bags was on a different plane.

At times it seemed that the whole of the conference was promenading along the riverwalk in downtown San Antonio, but surely delegates would not leave the conference during the day?

If the attendance was up on last year, the number of folk heroes was down. The Nashville finale gave us a lively show from Opryland featuring four acts that showcased some of the different types of country music. Our San Antonio concert featured just the one, country star Suzy Bogguss and her band, who nevertheless put on a good show for a lively audience. However, with my limited knowledge of the country scene, I failed to recognise any of her country songs.

But the other folk hero at the meeting did not appear on stage. His grand finale occurred 169 years ago, when he died in the battle of The Alamo defending Texas against the Mexican army. So now I know that Davy Crockett really did exist, unlike the British folk legend Robin Hood, and that I chose the correct hero to mimic when I was a lad.

The conference itself opened with a fascinating talk by Firouz Naderi from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, on the Rover missions to Mars. He began by saying that "as this is a mass spec conference, maybe I should say something about mass spec. But in a moment of sanity, I remembered that I don't know anything about mass spec, so I opted out of that." Ring any bells with anyone? Incidentally, it is planned to have a mass spectrometer aboard the 2009 Martian mission.

What followed was an informative and humorous look at some of the problems and highlights encountered during planning and the mission itself. For instance, after the delicately timed series of events that reduced the speed of the spacecraft from 12,000 mph 80 miles above the surface to zero in 6 minutes, he showed the great part that Lady Luck played in the mission. When the Rover Lander hit the surface of Mars, encased in air bags for protection, it bounced about 30 times, traversing around one quarter of a mile, before coming to rest in a crater. It just so happened that this crater had the exact geological features that the team were hoping to find.

As was the case in previous years, the conference was dominated by proteomics. This was not reflected so much in the oral sessions, where only about 25% were on this topic. But in the poster sessions, almost 1000 of the >2300 posters (42%) were on proteomics and related topics. Each day the proteomics subjects took up most of one side of the hall, with "the rest" on the other, offering a convenient demarcation for those fed up. Those delegates attempting to view all the posters (nearly 600 in one day, with 3 hours allotted time) were clearly recognisable from their catatonic states.

For those who missed any oral sessions due to their involvement in the posters or the riverwalk, ASMS came to the rescue with its first ever webcasting program. All oral talks, including plenaries, were made available during the conference and for up to two weeks afterwards, to be viewed with a special ID number. This is especially useful after the event, when we are back home and unable to decipher the scribbled notes from a session.

But we end back at the finale with an appropriate comment from Ms. Bogguss to bring a few mass spec egos crashing down faster than a Mars Lander. Trying to get a handle on the society's acronym, she pronounced it as AssMass "as in Christmas". At Christmas, people gather to celebrate the birth of Christ, so AssMass celebrates the gathering of asses?

San Antonio River
The riverwalk alongside the San Antonio River

The Alamo mission
The Alamo mission

A young Crockett impression
Your reporter as Davy Crockett, ca. 1957

Exhibition hall
The poster session and exhibition hall

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