Creative Combustion: A History of the Association for Laboratory Automation

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JALACover small.png  A Tutorial from the Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation

Originally appearing in JALA 10,423-431,2005 (view)

Creative Combustion: A History of the Association for Laboratory Automation
Authored by: Nan Hallock, Managing Editor,JALA





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‘‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’’ -- Albert Einstein

Ever since the invention of the wheel, mankind has been on the lookout for ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper. Through the ages, advances in science and technology have fueled inventiveness and propelled social and cultural change. From snake oil to silicon microchips, the eager and interested have always formed lines to explore the next new thing. Laboratory automation is no exception.

The Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) is rooted in a strong spirit of personal initiative and innovation. Ten years ago, the organization’s founders established a precedent of education and mentorship that continues to thrive today through world-class conferences, a highly regarded scientific journal, formal networking programs, and informal information alliances. ALA attracts the best and the brightest -- motivated professionals committed to building better mousetraps by being informed, staying connected, and maximizing the opportunities available to them. Whether they work for governments, universities, multinational corporations, or their entrepreneurial selves, ALA members know that staying a step ahead of today’s rapidly changing technology and trends is not just their key to success, it’s the key to what unlocks their mind’s eye.

This passion kindled the imaginations of many lab automation pioneers in the 1980s, including Tony Beugelsdijk, Alain Donzel, Robin Felder, Steve Hamilton, David Herold, Gary Kramer, and Rodney Markin to name a few. They recognized that scientists working in this emerging professional niche would benefit greatly from an accessible, up-to-date educational forum. Sparks flew, conferences were attended and presented, the idea of a nonprofit membership organization caught fire, and in 1996, the Association for Laboratory Automation was officially incorporated in the United States as a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation.

From its start, ALA served a diverse breadth and depth of professionals. The association offered a forum in which many different working scientists could compare practical notes, share achievements as well as disappointments, and learn and grow together. The response was red hot. Members came from all levels (from company presidents with Ph.D.s and M.D.s to entry-level lab techs with associate degrees), and from many camps (biopharmaceutical, agricultural, forensic and security sciences, molecular diagnostics, academia, manufacturing, and more). They participated in ALA conferences, they wrote papers for the Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation (JALA), and they invested sweat equity as volunteers.

Over the years, the inventive and entrepreneurial spirit of its leaders kept the needs of its members in focus, and kept the organization responsive and nimble. ALA never hesitated to explore new ideas and new ways to serve members. The journal evolved, the organization itself was reshaped, conference formats were reinvented and reincarnated, and the ranks swelled as members continued to gather from around the world. Nothing was cut in stone. No venue or vehicle was sacred. There was no such thing as business as usual.

Today, ALA remains true to its mission to advance science and education related to laboratory automation by encouraging the study, advancing the science, and improving the practice of medical and laboratory automation. The interest and enthusiasm expressed by ALA’s growing and ever-changing membership base ensure its continued success. ALA’s members are its true stakeholders, and it is with their personal success in mind that the organization continues to move forward.

Way back in the beginning

‘‘A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.’’ -- Frank Capra

  • The abacus may have been invented in Babylonia (now Iraq), and copper smelting in minute quantities is introduced in Mesopotamia (4000 B.C.).
  • Numerals appear in Sumerian, Proto-Elamite, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, and, somewhat later, the earliest known forms of pictographic writing (3300–2850 B.C.).
  • Democritus proposes the concept of atom to describe the ultimate indivisible, indestructible particles that composed the substance of all things (440 B.C.).
  • Greater efficiency in iron smelting is achieved by the introduction of mechanisms for producing blasts of air under pressure from a head of water (late 1200s).
  • Johann Gutenberg becomes the first in Europe to print with movable type cast in molds (1437).
  • Nuremberg watchmakers introduce clocks driven by springs rather than weights, making possible the invention of portable watches (late 1400s).
  • Cardano writes the first systematic computation of probabilities (1562). It is published in 1663.
  • Double convex lenses are combined in a tube to produce the first telescope (1590).
  • John Napier creates the first logarithmic tables and the first use of the word logarithm (written 1614, published 1619). Napier also introduces the decimal point in writing numbers.
  • Wilhelm Schickard builds a six-digit calculator, driven directly by gears, which can add, subtract, and indicate overflow by ringing a bell (1623).
  • Bonaventura Francesco Cavalieri publishes a purely geometric theory of indivisibles (1635).
  • Pascal claims barometric pressure results from atmospheric pressure and that pressure applied to a confined fluid is transmitted equally to all areas and at right angles to the surface of the confiner (1648).
  • Newton has discovered the essentials of calculus, the law of universal gravitation, and that white light is composed of all the colors of the spectrum (1666).
  • Gabriel Fahrenheit constructs the alcohol thermometer (1709), and the mercury thermometer (1714).
  • Leonhard Euler develops differential equations in mechanics (1736), the Euler–Lagrange equations (1744), and the wave theory of light refraction and dispersion (1746).
  • Anders Celsius develops the centigrade temperature scale (1742).
  • Jacques Alexandre Cesar Charles studies the gas volume changes with temperature and .nds that volume changes by 1/273 for every 1 C change at the freezing temperature of water (1787), and Louis Joseph Gay-Lussac announces this behavior as a general gas law (1802).
  • Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin (1794).

The 1800s and Early 1900s: More Pieces Are Put Into Place

‘‘Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.’’ -- Nnamdi Azikiwe

  • Karl Friederich Burdach coins the term biology to denote the study of human morphology, physiology, and psychology (1800).
  • Joseph von Fraunhofer develops the spectroscope (1815).
  • Charles Babbage develops a prototype calculating machine (1822).
  • Sadi Carnot establishes the principles that constitute the basis of thermodynamics (1824).
  • Justus von Liebeg develops techniques in quantitative analysis and applies them to biological systems, and the concept that vital activity can be explained in physicochemical terms (1830–1840).
  • Charles Darwin publishes "The Origin of Species" (1859).
  • First International Congress of Chemistry is held in Karlsruhe, Germany (1860).
  • Pasteur’s experiments lead to germ theory (1862).
  • Ernst Seyler performs the first crystallization of a protein: hemoglobin (1864).
  • Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone (1876).
  • Josiah Willard Gibbs develops the theory of chemical thermodynamics, introducing fundamental equations and relations to calculate multiphase equilibrium, the phase rule, and the free energy concept (1878).
  • Thomas Edison builds the first hydroelectric power plant in Appleton, WI (1882).
  • Herman Hollerith invents a punch card tabulator that is used in the U.S. census of 1890. Hollerith’s company eventually becomes IBM.
  • German physicist Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen discovers a new kind of radiation working with the vacuum tube discharge. This radiation is called X-rays (1895).
  • Bayer’s Aspirin goes on sale to the public (1899).
  • Einstein formulates the Special Theory of Relativity, establishes the Law of Mass–Energy Equivalence, creates the Brownian Theory of Motion, and formulates the Photon Theory of Light (1905).
  • Ford develops the first moving assembly line (1913).

The 1940s and 1950s: The World Recovers from War

‘‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.’’ -- Johann von Goethe

  • A mass spectrometer costs $40,000 (1940).
  • Konrad Zuse, a German engineer, completes the first general purpose programmable calculator, and pioneers the use of binary math and Boolean logic in electronic calculation (1941).
  • J. Weiss discovers ionic charge transfer (1942).
  • Enrico Fermi and a team of scientists operate the first man-made nuclear reactor (1942).
  • Colossus, a British computer used for code breaking, is operational (1943).
  • ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer, is developed by the Ballistics Research Laboratory in Maryland to assist in the preparation of firing tables for artillery. It is built at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering (1945).
  • Bell Telephone Laboratories develops the transistor (1947).
  • University of Iowa postgraduate student Johan Hultin uses a piece of brass tubing to connect the rotating arm on the back of an alarm clock (which cocks the alarm’s bell when the time is up) to the gas valve that controls the flow of gas through a rubber tube to a Bunsen burner. When the clock’s alarm sounds, it automatically shuts off the gas to the Bunsen burner and extinguishes the flame (1950).
  • The Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC) stores 12,000 digits in random access mercury-delay lines (1951).
  • The Electronic Discrete Variable Computer (EDVAC) is completed under contract for the Ordinance Department (1952).
  • G. W. Dummer, a radar expert from the British Royal Radar Establishment, proposes that electronic equipment be manufactured as a solid block with no connecting wires. The prototype he builds doesn’t work and he receives little support for his research (1952).
  • A top-of-the-line NMR spectrophotometer costs $35,000 (1955).
  • Technicon (Jack Whitehead) launches the AutoAnalyzer, the first "high-throughput" laboratory automation (1957).
  • Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor both announce the integrated circuit (1959).

The 1960s and 1970s: Today's Technology Begins to Take Shape

‘‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistence.’’ -- Daniel Burnham

  • UCLA chemistry professor James Hendrickson uses the IBM 709 computer to calculate the relative conformational stabilities of cyclohexane based on various geometrical factors (1961).
  • The IBM 360 is introduced (1964), and quickly becomes the standard institutional mainframe computer.
  • H. L. Morgan of Chemical Abstracts Service publishes what is called the Morgan Algorithm, a system for representing chemical structures in graphical format (‘‘connecting tables’’) that can be stored and entered into computational operations (1965).
  • Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce found Intel (1968).
  • Xerox creates its Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) to explore the architecture of information (1969).
  • The concept of chemical structures as logical, computable entities gets a major boost when Harvard University professor and future Nobel prize winner E. J. Corey and his postdoctoral fellow Todd Wipke describe computer software that can generate synthetic routes for chemical structures based on Corey’s method of logical retrosynthetic analysis (1969).
  • Hewlett–Packard introduces the first robotic sample injector for chromatography, allowing samples to be analyzed while the system is unattended (1969).
  • Fairchild Semiconductor introduces a 256-bit RAM chip. Intel introduces a 1K RAM chip and the 4004, a 4-bit microprocessor (1970).
  • Carnegie Mellon University Professor John Pople develops Gaussian 70, a computational chemistry program that quickly becomes the mainstay of theoretical physical chemists for performing ab initio electronic structure calculations (1970).
  • Intel releases the 8008, an 8-bit microprocessor (1972).
  • Stanford Research Institute, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah create the first hosts of the ARPANET, predecessor to the Internet (1969).
  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen form Traf-O-Data to sell their computer traffic-analysis systems (1971).
  • Phillips releases the first commercially available home video cartridge machine on the market (1970).
  • Xerox develops the Ethernet that becomes the de facto standard for linking computers, printers, and other hardware devices (1973).
  • Ducutel receives a patent for the Automatic Teller Machine (1973).
  • Products with barcodes begin appearing in American stores. Scanners at checkout counters are able to read the codes using laser technology (1974).
  • The first personal computer is described in a Radio Electronics magazine article written by Jonathan Titus, a graduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Popular Electronics magazine features the MITS Altair 8800 on its cover, and it is hailed as the first ‘‘personal’’ computer. The computer described by Titus uses the Intel 8008 microprocessor. The Altair 8800 uses the Intel 8080, the third generation Intel processor after the 4004 and the 8008 (1975).
  • Bell Labs begins the first commercial cellular service trial, offering Advanced Mobile Phone Service in Chicago (1978).
  • Todd Wipke, Stuart Marson, and Stephen Peacock form Molecular Designs, the first chemical database company (1978).
  • Software Arts develops the first spreadsheet program, Visicalc (1979).
  • Garland Marshall launches Tripos Associates to manufacture molecular modeling and conformational analysis software for investigating drug molecules (1979).

The 1980s: Scientists in Laboratories Around the World Begin to Leverage Advances in Technology to Create Automated Laboratory Processes

‘‘The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!,’ but ‘That’s funny.’’ --  Isaac Asimov

  • A mass spectrometer costs $400,000 (1980).
  • The first Montreux Symposium on Liquid Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry is presented by the International Association of Environmental Analytical Chemistry (1980).
  • Millipore acquires Waters Associates, prompting Frank Zenie (president), Jim Little (marketing), Burliegh Hutchins (hardware design), Gerry Hawk (marketing), and Bill Buote (software design) to form a robotics company called Zymark (1980).
  • After Paul Allen and Bill Gates develop BASIC for the Altair 8800, Microsoft is approached by IBM to develop BASIC for its personal computer project (1980), and the IBM PC is released (1981).
  • Zymark introduces the first laboratory robotic system, the Zymate 1 (1981).
  • Carlo Erba advertises the first fully computerized microstructure laboratory, and Perkin–Elmer begins marketing its Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) 2000 (1981).
  • Marvin Caruthers and Leroy Hood form Applied Biosystems (1981), and introduce the first automated protein sequencer (1982).
  • Irwin Kuntz develops an algorithm that eventually becomes the widely used DOCK program for matching the shape and electronics of small molecules with protein receptor pockets (1982).
  • Instrument SA’s JY-48P simultaneous inductively coupled plasma system is touted for its ability to analyze 48 elements in one minute, and EDAX touts its simultaneous multiple-element analysis X-ray system (1982).
  • The first peer-reviewed scientific paper on laboratory robotics was published in the journal of Analytical Chemistry.  It was entitled "Robotic Sample Preparation Station," and was written by Grover Owens and Rodney Eckstein (1982).
  • Applied Biosystems launches the first commercially successful DNA synthesizer (1983).
  • The National Institutes of Health establishes a National Center for Biomedical Infrared Spectroscopy at Battelle’s Columbus, OH, division with a $5 million grant. Research includes using FT-IR spectrometers, computers, and data analyzers to study proteins and RNA (1983).
  • Kary Mullis, at Cetus, develops the thermocycler for polymerase chain reactions for rapid DNA identi.cation and cloning (1983).
  • IBM produces a line of computerized spectrometers, spectrophotometers, and chromatographs that capitalize on IBM’s computer expertise (1983).
  • Zymark presents the first International Symposium on Laboratory Automation Robotics (ISLAR) for its Zymate 1 customers. Key organizers include Jim Little, Janet Strimaitis, Gerry Hawk, and Brian Lightbody (1983).
  • Applied Biosystems launches a peptide synthesizer (1984).
  • The University of Washington receives a National Science Foundation planning grant and establishes an industry– university cooperative for a Center for Process Analytical Chemistry (CPAC) to improve the integration of analytical instruments and procedures into automated chemical processes (1984).
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) establishes a national user facility as part of an industry–university partnership at Brookhaven National Laboratories.To study crystalline structure and metal defects, this facility uses an X-ray system 10,000 times more intense than what is normal for universities and industry (1984).
  • Apple Macintosh computer is launched, featuring a mouse and simple, graphical interface. It uses the 8-MHz, 32-bit Motorola 68000 CPU, and has a built-in 9-in. black and white screen (1984).
  • The silicon microchip is developed, storing 4 times more data than previously possible (1984).
  • Scientists at Purdue University report using the Zymark system for the robotic orchestration of nine simultaneous reactions, workup, and HPLC yield analysis. Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Merck, and Dow apply robotic systems to perform titrations, make reaction mixtures for kinetic studies, and screen compounds for electrochemical activity, respectively (1984).
  • Molecular Designs introduces MACCS-II, the first system to integrate chemical structures with data, giving scientists the ability to create data forms paired with each structure and connect them to databases that can be browsed, searched, and updated (1984).
  • Microsoft Windows 1.0 becomes available (1985).
  • America Online is founded (1985).
  • Zymark’s ISLAR presents its first ‘‘Pioneer in Laboratory Robotics Awards’’ (1985).
  • During an ISLAR roundtable discussion, Gerald Hahn of Becton Dickinson Advanced Diagnostics holds up a microtiter plate and says to those around him, ‘‘Lads, this is the future!’’ Later, Dennis France proclaims himself to be the prophet Gerald Hahn’s disciple (1985).
  • becomes the first registered domain and is quickly followed by,,, and others (1985).
  • A top-of-the-line NMR spectrophotometer costs $850,000 (1985).
  • The University of Pittsburgh dedicates a $3 million center for surface science (1985).
  • Applied Biosystems introduces the first automated DNA sequencer (1986).
  • Total computers in use in the United States exceed 30 million (1986).
  • Sequencing a piece of DNA 1000 bases long is being done in less than a week by skilled operators using the Sanger method of gel sequencing (1986).
  • Paul Chu creates a superconducting ceramic at much higher temperatures than previously possible (1987).
  • Chemical database company Daylight Chemical Information Systems is formed (1987).
  • The CONCORD algorithm becomes available for rapid computation of an approximate three-dimensional structure from two-dimensional input, allowing large three-dimensional databases to be built (1987).
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) proposes an industry government research Consortium on Automated Analytical Laboratory Systems (CAALS) to accelerate the advancement of automated analytical systems (1989).
  • Worldwide sales of analytical instruments increase to $4.8 billion, nearly twice the value five years before (1989).
  • VCH begins publishing the Laboratory Robotics and Automation journal with W. Jeffery Hurst as editor (1989).
  • The Technology Transfer Act amends the Atomic Energy Act to make technology transfer a principal mission of the U.S. Department of Energy and its laboratories (1989).

The 1990s: An Association of New Professionals is born

‘‘The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack
of will. The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.’’ -- Vince Lombardi

  • The eighth ISLAR is presented in Boston, MA, by Zymark Corporation for its customers, and is attended by Alain Donzel of SciTec, Montreux, Switzerland (1990).
  • The Human Genome Project begins (1990).
  • Logo Starburst Small 1.jpgRobin Felder of the University of Virginia organizes the first International Conference on Robotics in Laboratory Medicine, which attracts about 50 attendees (1991).
  • Logo Starburst Small 1.jpgD.R. Knighton and colleagues determine the three-dimensional structure of the catalytic core of protein kinase (1991).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgJan van der Greef and Alain Donzel organize the first International Symposium on Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Applied to Analytical Chemistry, which is presented in Montreux, Switzerland, as a for-profit educational venture. All interested professionals are invited to attend and participate. The first short courses are offered and taught by Bob McDowall, Nader Donzel, L. M. Buydens, and D. L. Massart. Lars-Eric Edholm of Astra Draco in Sweden is honored with the Hewlett–Packard Award for outstanding strategic research in automated sample preparation; and Steve Hamilton of Eli Lilly and P. Josses on Phone-Poulenc in France are honored with the SciTec-TNO Award for best presentation. At the gala dinner, all attendees including Robin Felder, Gary Kramer, Dennis France, Jonathan Lindsey, and Rodney Markin enjoy petite salade du potager aux graines de cereales et filet d’agneau, escalope de saumon a la cressonniere, and tranche feuilletee aux baies et fruits (1992).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgJan van der Greef and Alain Donzel organize the second International Symposium on Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Applied to Analytical Chemistry and the second International Conference on Robotics in Laboratory Medicine in Montreux, Switzerland, as a for-pro.t educational venture. It attracts 20 exhibitors, one of whom, Ernst Burgisser, displays a machine that can fill a 96-well plate in one strokeda world premier. The first ‘‘Introduction to Laboratory Robotics’’ short course is presented by Gary Kramer and Steve Hamilton (free lunches are not actually included). Robin Felder, on sabbatical from the University of Virginia, serves as a member of the scienti.c committee. Other members include Bob McDowall, Gary Kramer, Claude Mordini, and D. L. Massart.  Jonathan Lindsey of Carnegie Mellon University is honored with the Hewlett–Packard Award for outstanding strategic research in automated sample preparation; and Masahide Sasaki of Kochi Medical School in Japan and R. J. Lipscomb of Labotix Automation in Canada are honored with the SciTec-TNO Award for best presentation. A recent University of Virginia graduate and SciTec employee, Chris Herold, assists Alain Donzel by the conference registration desk. As a result, Chris’s father, David Herold, is one of 200 participants. Others include Tony Beugelsdijk, Steve Hamilton, and Rodney Markin. At the close of the meeting, Robin Felder, Alain Donzel, and David Herold meet, and the idea of presenting the next conference in San Diego crystallizes (1993).
  • CERN releases to the public its hypertext for physicists, naming it the World Wide Web (1992).
  • Marc Andreeson and others developed a graphical user interface for the World Wide Web called Mosaic X (1993).
  • Kary Banks Mullis wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for PCR, the polymerase chain reaction (1993).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe third International Conference on Automation, Robotics and Arti.cial Intelligence Applied to Analytical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine makes its NorthAmerican debut and is renamed ‘‘ICAR’’. Fueled by enthusiasm from Alain Donzel, Robin Felder, David Herold and Jan van der Greef, ICAR is presented at the Pan Pacific Hotel in San Diego. It attracts 19 exhibitors and 325 participants.  K. Bodtker of Andronics in Canada is honored with the Boehringer Mannheim Award for the most novel use of robotics in the clinical laboratory (emphasis on preanalytical phase); Tony Beugelsdijk of Los Alamos National Laboratory is honored with the Hewlett–Packard Award for outstanding strategic research in automated sample preparation; and Sheila Hobbs de Witt of Parke Davis and Peter Wilding of University of Pennsylvania are honored with the SciTec-TNO Award for best presentation. Chris Herold coordinates a team of energetic students from the University of California San Diego who provide volunteer administrative assistance during the conference. Amy Herold (Chris’s sister and David’s daughter) contributes pro bono graphic design services. By the end of the conference, Tony Beugelsdijk joins the development team (1994).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgICAR continues in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1995, San Diego in 1996, and Monreux in 1997. Robin Felder and Jan van der Greef serve as Scientific Committee cochairs. Other Scienti.c Committee members include Tony Beugelsdijk, David Herold, Kelle Janne, and Masahide Sasaki.
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpg
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    In response to the growing importance and popularityofICAR conferences, the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) is in corporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization by Tony Beugelsdijk, Alain Donzel, Robin Felder, and David Herold (1996).
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  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe first issue of Laboratory Automation News (LAN) is published by ALA. It totals 27 full color pages (1996).
  • Total computers in use in the United States exceed 100 million (1996).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpg
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    ALA presents the first LabAutomation conference in San Diego, CA, attracting more than 450 attendees. Keynote speakers are Dr. Joseph Engelberger who talks about ‘‘Robots in Medicine: From Hospital to Home Care’’, and Skip Klein who talks about ‘‘Investments in Automation Boost Productivity while Increasing Quality’’. The conference successfully presents one of the first Internet-based short courses, even though computers are installed while class is in session. A total of 72 educational sessions are offered, 28 posters are displayed, and 40 exhibitors occupy 81 10-foot by 10-foot booths. Sheila DeWitt, Reinhold Schaefer, Masahide Sasaki, Torsten Staab, Douglas Gurevitch, Peter Grandsard, and Mark Russo join the growing list of ALA volunteers (1997).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgAlain Donzel resigns from the ALA Board of Directors to focus on ICAR, which joins MipTec (1997).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe Internet welcomes
  • Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) becomes the first American graduate school to offer a professional Master of Bioscience degree. Designed to educate leaders for the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, healthcare product, and bioagricultural (bioscience) industries, KGI’s interdisciplinary curriculum integrates biological systems, computational biology and bioengineering with management, finance, and bioethics (1997).
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  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgLAN becomes the Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation (JALA) (1998).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpg
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    ALA introduces the EuroLabAutomation conference at Keble College in Oxford, United Kingdom, attracting approximately 150 attendees. Keynote speaker is Dr. Ron Pethig whose presentation is entitled ‘‘Must We Have Chips with Everything?’’ Thirty-nine exhibitors fill 50 booths in a leaky outdoor tent with a wooden floor on the college lawn. At night, a watchman keeps guard with a Rottweiler while attendees sleep soundly in student dormitory rooms. The members of the conference’s scientific committee enjoy dinner aboard a boat. As it traverses the canals and locks around Oxford, the concept of a conference focused exclusively on all things small (smallTalk) crystallizes between Tony Beugelsdijk and David Herold (1998).
  • Beckman Coulter is formed when Beckman Instruments acquires Coulter Corporation (1998).
  • The first Cherry Blossom Symposium is held in Kochi, Japan, to bring together the leading international figures and companies in the laboratory automation field, and to explore technological developments. It is presided Takeda, Mr. Nishida, and Mr. Ogura. (1998)
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  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA launches the smallTalk conference in San Diego, CA, attracting 111 attendees and 15 exhibitors. Keynote speaker is Dr. Michael Cima of MIT who talks about electro-actuated devices such as microdosing platforms and manufacturing tools (1999).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgStudent grants become available from ALA to make it easier for a new generation of scientists to take advantage of the educational and professional networking opportunities offered at ALA conferences (1999).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe EuroLabAutomation conference moves to a larger venue in London, United Kingdom (1999). 
  • The Human Genome Project announces the sequencing of the euchromatic part of human chromosome 22 (1999).

The 21st Century: The Scientific Community of Lab Automation Professionals Grows and Strengthens

‘‘If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.’’ -- George S. Patton, Jr.

  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgTo make room for more attendees and exhibitors, the LabAutomation conference moves to Palm Springs, CA. The final program book is printed by Kinko’s, and the electronic transmission of document files overloads its network (2000).
  • The Human Genome Project maps the sequence of human chromosome 21, the smallest chromosome (2000).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe ALA Board of Directors begins to outsource special services, and expands from three to five members when Steve Hamilton and Rod Markin are invited to join by existing members Tony Beugelsdijk, Robin Felder, and David Herold (2000).
  • Apple Computer releases a new operating system based on a UNIX core, Max OS X (2001).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe final EuroLabAutomation conference is held in London, United Kingdom (2001).
  • Ventner, representing Celera Genomics, and Francis Collins, representing Human Genome Project, jointly publish their decoding of the human genome. Their rapid sequencing progress is permitted by the automatic sequencer ABI PRISM 3700 DNA Analyzer, developed by Michael Hunkapiller. Assembling the fragments of the genome into a complete sequence depends on computer programs developed by Phillip Green (2001).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgRobin Felder and Rodney Markin retire from the ALA Board of Directors (2002).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgGregory F. Dummer, CAE, is hired as the first ALA chief administrative officer. He spearheads the development of a virtual organization, and formally engages professional services from a variety of providers (2002).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe ALA Board of Directors changes the ALA business management model to one of a member-driven professional society. New bylaws are drafted, and the articles of incorporation are revised (2002).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe first open election is conducted, and ALA members vote to elect willing and interested peers to represent their interests on the ALA Board of Directors (2002).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA finalizes new accounting systems and procedures that meet best practice standards, and adopts a more functional, member-driven, organizational structure for its committees (2003).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpg
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    ALA begins publishing JALA in partnership with Elsevier, Mark Russo takes the helm as executive editor, a new graphic design is unveiled, and JALA is added to the Elsevier ScienceDirect and British Library Reading Room databases (2003).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA presents its final smallTalk conference in Palm Springs, CA (2003).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgStudent memberships to ALA become available to full-time graduate and undergraduate students, postdocs and fellows for just $25. Student members enjoy all benefits of ALA regular members with the exception of voting privileges (2004).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgTo accommodate a greater number of exhibitors, LabAutomation moves to San J
    Informal Dave and Tony 2.jpg
    ose, CA (2004). 
  • The final ISLAR conference is presented in Boston, MA (2003).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgDavid Herold and Tony Beugelsdijk retire from the ALA Board of Directors (2004). 
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA fosters increased cooperation among like-minded organizations with its Friends of the ALA alliance program (2004).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe first and only LabFusion conference is held in Boston, MA (2004).
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  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA opens the doors to its first headquarters office at 330 West State Street in Geneva, IL (2004).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgLabAutomation conference attendance soars to 4805 (from 29 different countries). More than 200 educational sessions are offered, and 202 different companies exhibit. ALA welcomes Nobel prize winner Kary Mullis as keynote speaker. The ALA Member Center debuts on the exhibit floor. The first ALA Innovation Award is presented to podium speaker Dana Spence (2005).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA completes its first comprehensive strategic plan, a living document that provides direction and guidance as ALA moves forward into the future. The plan requires nearly a year in total to complete, and is built from the thoughtful input of more than 40 individual ALA volunteers, industry professionals, and staff members. It captures a shared vision for future growth, member services, and success (2005).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgLabAutomation returns to a remodeled and expanded convention center in Palm Springs, CA (2006).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgDouglas Gurevitch of the University of California San Diego becomes executive editor of JALA (2007).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA launches a monthly e-newsletter, LabSnap (2006).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgThe Lab Man (AKA Steven D. Hamilton) debuts with monthly online blogs, podcasts and discussion forum (2006).
  • Social media networks such as My Space, Facebook, Linked-In, YouTube and Twitter are introduced and quickly embraced by Web natives and immigrants alike (2008).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgDean Ho of Northwestern University becomes editor-in-chief of JALA (2009).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA launches LabAutopedia - The ALA Knowledge Network wiki with an entertaining music video and a barnraising orientation session at LabAutomation (2009).
  • Image:Logo_Starburst_Small_1.jpgALA opens online access to JALA scientific content two years after initial publication (2009).

External links and references

  • American Electronics Association Web site (AeA High-Tech Timeline). (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Association for Laboratory Automation Web site.  (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Beugelsdijk, T.  Los Alamos National Laboratory. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Donzel, A. MipTec. Private communication to David Herold. 2003.
  • Dummer, G. Association for Laboratory Automation. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Filmore, D. Computers and automation: new techniques opened new worlds of convenience and possibilities. Enterprise of the Chemical Sciences 2005, 113–6.
  • Hamilton, S. Sanitas Consulting. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Herold, D. University of California San Diego. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Information please. InfoPlease Web site, (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Keck Graduate Institute Web site, (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Kolata, G. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, NY; 2001; p 88.
  • Kramer, G. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Lee, D. Science Timeline Web site. (accessed August 24, 2005).
  • Lesney, M. 80s glassware and glasnost: distilling a new world order Made to Measure March 1999, p. 73–81.
  • Lightbody, B. Caliper Life Sciences. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Quoteland Web site. (accessed August 31, 2005).
  • Russo, M. Bristol–Myers Squibb. Private communication to the author. 2005.
  • Sterling, J. Laboratory automation curriculum at Keck Graduate Institute JALA 2004, 331–5. 
  • The Quotations Archive Web site. index.shtml (accessed August 31, 2005).
  • The Quotations Page Web site. (accessed August 31, 2005).
  • Triumph of the nerds: a history of the computer. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Web site, (accessed August 24, 2005).

The majority of this article was originally published in the Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation (JALA) in December 2005 (Volume 10, Number 6, pages 423-431). 

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