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The International LIMS Conferences

Commencing in the 1980s the RSC Automatic Methods Group played a major role in the adoption of laboratory information systems by UK analytical laboratories. Its most notable LIMS activity was organising a series of international conferences aimed at developers and potential users. This history of the events written in 1997 by the late Alan McLelland illustrates their international importance.

There can be few analytical chemists who are not aware of the series of International LIMS Conferences which have been running annually since 1987. Such is the current importance of IT, particularly in relation to the ever-increasing list of regulatory requirements which afflict the analytical laboratory, that the LIMS conferences from the outset found a receptive audience among scientists, technologists and laboratory managers eager to debate the implications of this powerful technology for their business. What is less well-known, however, is the role played by the Automatic Methods Group in the genesis of the International LIMS Conferences, and in the European Conferences in particular.

Gerst Gibbon, from the Federal Energy Technology Centre in Pittsburgh, who chaired the first US conference, and has been an ever-present driving force within the US organising committee since then, traces the source of the LIMS Conferences to a meeting between himself, Dave Nelson and Harmon Brown of Nelson Analytical, and Graham Martin of ICI in 1985 [1]. That meeting stemmed from the first of AMG’s Ferndown meetings at the Dormy Hotel, where Gerst first met Harmon Brown, Graham Martin, Ken Leiper and Derrick Porter, all of whom were to become members of the organising committee for the first LIMS Conference.

A second meeting over a working breakfast at Pittcon in Atlantic City in March 1986, which again featured Gerst, Harmon, Graham, Ken and Derrick, among others, brought unanimous agreement that there should be a series of International LIMS Conferences alternating between the USA and Europe. In practice, the first two were held in Pittsburgh in 1987 and 1988.

The LIMS/AMG links were further reinforced when Gerst was asked to present a keynote lecture ‘LIMS what are the choices? at the Ferndown meeting ‘Analytical Chemistry – a time for change?’ in October 1987. Other AMG luminaries present were Doug Squirrell, Derrick Porter, Gordon Farrow, Ken Leiper, Alan Braithwaite and the AMG chairman Kevin Saunders.

The first European Conference – the 3rd in the series – was held in the UK in 1989, at the Anugraha Conference Centre, under Graham Martin’s chairmanship. From the outset, it was agreed that the European conference committee would function as a sub-group of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Automatic Methods Group. The LIMS Conference was therefore allowed to use the RSC’s arms on its publicity material, and the intellectual cachet thus afforded the fledgeling conference was very much appreciated. The AMG also offered a starter grant towards the 3rd conference, which was repaid in full from the financial surplus of the meeting.

AMG Treasurer Alan Braithwaite has been Honorary Treasurer of the European Conferences since their inception, and all European LIMS Conference accounts are kept within the RSC, although the deregulation of the RSC for VAT caused a few headaches for the 7th Conference in 1993.

As the European Conferences gathered pace, the chairmen were routinely appointed from within the ranks of the AMG – John Boother (5th Conference); Alan McLelland (7th), and Alex Williams (9th) oversaw the gradual transition of the conference to a truly European event, marked by the selection of a European mainland venue (Maritim Hotel, Bonn) for the 9th conference in 1995.

The llth Conference, under the chairmanship of John Trigg of Kodak UK, was held in June 1997, at another new European mainland venue – The Netherlands Congress Centre at The Hague – in association with the l0th anniversary of the founding of the Division of Computational Chemistry of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society, the Koninklijke Nederlandse Chemische Vereniging. This association with the RSC’s counterpart organisation in the host country continues to be of inestimable value in assisting the success of the meeting, and, no less importantly, in fostering links between chemists world-wide.

What of the future? Astonishingly perhaps, the International LIMS Conference concept shows no sign of flagging. Ten years from inception, last year’s meeting in The Hague was the largest of its kind ever held in Europe with over 500 sqm of exhibition and a packed 4- day programme featuring short courses, plenary lectures, breakout sessions and manufacturer workshops. As the LIMS concept has matured and changed over the past decade, so the conference has kept pace, for example by integrating scientific computing into its programme.

The conference committee has supported LIMS meetings in Europe in the off-year when the main conference is in the USA, and is actively looking at proposals both for 1998 and for another new European venue for the l3th conference in 1999. Like the venues, the organising committee is gradually becoming more mainland-oriented with German, Norwegian, Belgian and French representation, and the chairman-elect for 1999 is Professor Reinhold Schaefer of the Technical University of Wiesbaden. Nevertheless, for the foreseeable future, the European International LIMS Conferences will continue to be associated with, and promote the values of, the Royal Society of Chemistry, through its continuing and valued links with the RSC’s Automatic Methods Group.


1. Gibbon, G.A., A brief history of LIMS. Laboratory Automation and Information Management, (1996), 32, l-5.

Alan S. McLelland
Institute of Biochemistry, Royal Infirmary, Glasgow.
June 1997