HPLC 2017
(Prague, 18-22 June 2017)

Amy Johnson
PhD, Keele University

I am a current PhD student applying HPLC as a separation technique in metabonomic studies. Thanks to ChromSoc awarding me a student bursary, I was lucky enough to attend and present a poster of my work  at HPLC 2017 in Prague, which was the 45th international symposium on High Performance Liquid separations and related techniques. The HPLC symposium series is one of the world’s leading conferences for the exchange of knowledge, information, and new applications of liquid based separations technology. The symposium was fantastically organised by Michal Holčapek and František Foret, and both the scientific program and the social events came together brilliantly well.

Several short courses took place on the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before the symposium was officially opened on Sunday afternoon by the ringing of the bell, following a stunning light art performance by Alex Dowis. This show incorporated images not only representative of HPLC 2017, including Chrom and Spec the mice mascots of the symposium, but also representing the travel of people from all across the world to come together in the beautiful city of Prague to share research and ideas. Following the welcome and the official opening of the symposium by the chairmen, an award ceremony took place, awarding those deserving of recognition and remembering past colleagues and pioneers in the field for their contributions to HPLC. The plenary speakers then took to the stage talking about a range of topics, from Gert Desmet discussing the present and future directions of HPLC, through applications in cancer diagnosis and the HPLC toolbox required for protein biopharmaceutical diagnosis by Zoltán Takáts and Pat Sandra, to Peter Willis telling us about how liquid separation techniques can be used to search for life on ocean worlds by observing and comparing known biosignatures with those found on these worlds.

Each session of this symposium was split up into four sections; FUNdamentals, HYPhenations, APPlications, and YOUng and tutorials which, as Peter Schoenmakers pointed out, meant that at least 25% of the program was fun! However, I did not attend any of these FUN sessions, so I am unable to comment on whether or not they lived up to their name. As my area of research is the application of HPLC-MS to metabonomics, I mostly attended the APP sessions to see how HPLC can be applied to other areas of research, and to hear other researchers discuss how they have used HPLC in their own metabonomic studies.

One of the highlights of the APP sessions for me personally was the Metabolomics session, as it was great to hear about other metabonomics/metabolomics studies using HPLC, and to see how the workflows for these studies showed both similarities and differences to my own workflow, giving me a different perspective on how to approach my research. One speaker in particular who stood out to me in this session was Paige Malec, one of the finalists for the Csaba Horváth Young Scientist Award, who discussed the use of derivatisation in targeted metabolomics. Although this topic was not directly applicable to my current research, it was interesting to hear about something slightly different that may be useful to me in the future, and it was brilliant to see a young female scientist confidently discussing her research in front of people at various different points of their careers; from those who have been working in the field for many years to those, like myself, who are right at the very start of their careers. Another highlight of the APP sessions was the Clinical Analysis session, where Ian Wilson did a wonderful job of waking us all up at 9am the morning after the gala dinner. I have seen Ian present on several occasions and he never fails to deliver an engaging performance! This session was one that I eagerly anticipated throughout the week, as although I am currently applying metabonomic techniques to food analysis, following completion of my PhD I wish to move my research into the field of clinical analysis. Disease diagnosis is an area of clinical analysis that I find extremely fascinating, and so hearing David Friedecký discuss the application of untargeted metabolomics in diagnosing inherited metabolic diseases was of great interest to me.

As well as APP sessions, I also attended a couple of HYP sessions, which were focussed on biomarker discovery in metabolomics and MS based omics. These were of particular interest to me as they discussed specifically the use of HPLC-MS in these areas, which is highly applicable to my research, and again it was great to compare workflows and to see the various approaches of using HPLC-MS in the discovery of biomarkers in metabolomics and other omics based studies. I also thoroughly enjoyed attending a few YOU sessions, as it is great to see other young researchers like myself presenting their work in front of lots of people in what is possibly their first presentation at an international conference. I think it is brilliant that there is an opportunity for young scientists to present their research alongside their peers, in front of fellow young scientists as well as some more seasoned researchers further along in their careers. I found the YOU session on scientific writing and publishing to be incredibly helpful, as I am sure many others did too. I am coming to the point of writing my first paper, and so it was useful to hear about what editors look for in a submission, and how best to maximise your chances of being accepted into a journal. I learned much about the publishing process, from initial submission to publication, and found it particularly useful to hear how best to edit a manuscript based on reviewer’s comments.

The closing plenary session included a medal ceremony and three final presentations; Alberto Cavazzini on chiral separations, Norman Dovichi on capillary electrophoresis as a tool in proteomics, and Doo Soo Chung on sample pre-concentration techniques coupled to capillary electrophoresis mass spectrometry. These were followed by invitations to three future HPLC symposia; Jeju in 2017, Washington in 2018, and Milan in 2019, and the announcements of The Csaba Horváth Young Scientist award and the best poster awards. The symposium was then officially closed with the passing on of the owl to the next chairman and the ringing of the bell.

As well as the scientific program, the organised social events were brilliant; from the welcome drinks on Sunday evening to the farewell drinks on Thursday afternoon. The welcome mixer was a good chance to sample some Czech wine and beer, grab some food, and catch up with people who you often only get to see at events. During this time I bumped into Tony Edge, vice president of ChromSoc, and amongst other things we discussed my research and how it was progressing, as well as opportunities to present at HTC-15 in Cardiff, and to attend the ChromSoc 2nd Grass Roots event (which I would love to attend, but unfortunately am away for).

The Czech beer party was another chance to chat to various people and sample more food, and most importantly the Czech beer (as I am more of a wine fan I unfortunately cannot comment on the quality of the beer!). On Tuesday evening, there was a lovely organ and string concert in a stunning cathedral, which was a chance to relax, unwind, and enjoy the beautiful music. Two young children, who were not particularly interested in the music, took this event as an opportunity to make friends and to get to know each other – it is never too early to start networking! Wednesday evening was the gala dinner, which took place in the beautiful Žofín Palace. It was a brilliant evening; as well as the incredible food and the music that accompanied it, it was a fantastic opportunity to network with various people who were involved in the symposium as either organisers, speakers, poster presenters, or simply participants. I was lucky enough to have Ian Wilson organise where I was sitting, and thanks to him I was able to speak to some well experienced, brilliantly interesting people such as Peter Schoenmakers, Wolfgang Lindner, Paul Haddad who gave some great advice about completing my PhD, and Michael Witting who I had got to know earlier in the week at a poster session when discussing his research with retention indexing.

By the time of the farewell drinks on Thursday afternoon, there were several people for me to say goodbye and extend my thanks to; for being good company and for giving invaluable advice for my current research and future career. This symposium was a fantastic 5 days full of exciting scientific content, great people, and fun social events, and I came away from it full of new ideas, fresh motivation, and a real excitement for my future career in HPLC.