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Photo Credit:  The Adelaide Convention Centre along Karrawirraparri (River Torrens) in Adelaide, South Australia (photograph by S.D. Warner, 2019)

Technical and professional conferences that bring together colleagues representing a common professional or academic area have been a mainstay for generations of technical professionals. For more than 175 years in the USA, individuals of a similar practice have been meeting to discuss concepts, philosophy, technical developments, future objectives – mostly in the name of collaboration rather than competition. Historical examples of these long-standing confabs include the first National Medical Convention, held in New York in 1846[1], American Institute of Electrical Engineers who first met in 1884[2], the Geological Society of America with a first gathering in December 1888[3] (which also was the first Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association outside of its founding location in Saratoga Springs, New York[4], and the American Geophysical Union who convened a first meeting in 1920 with 25 members.[5] Some may even say that the very first such gatherings in society occurred over 5000 years ago if one considers the early bazaars in the Middle East that were established as “trade shows” for vendors to sell and show off their goods[6].

The COVID Pandemic completely derailed the 2020 conference after the exponential outbreak early that year. While attempts to convene in person were dashed for the next two years, the ability to gather in virtual space, using one or many of the commercially available e-meet platforms, became available and were used exclusively through the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. In some sense, more practitioners were able to attend from remote locations and one could say that the ability to “travel” – though just virtually – expanded our ability to interact or at least “listen” to others from diverse backgrounds and diverse geography.

However, the virtual meetings were still just two-dimensional. The ability to have “side bar” conversations were only available through “chatting” functions, there were no water-cooler meetups, no grabbing a beverage spontaneously to discuss new idea, no ability to relax with your colleagues and develop the interpersonal connections that are as much a part of our practice as is the technical DNA that drives us.

Now, midway through 2022, COVID is still with us, but life is slowly returning to at least a moderate speed, and the technical conferences are back! In fact, the flywheel of meetups seems to be spinning faster as the year proceeds and numerous conferences are being scheduled, some with overlapping timeframes that may result in turnout affected by competition. Some also are hesitant to attend because we still are not out of the COVID-era and the health and safety of all remains paramount. Yet, it seems as time continues, these technical meetings will continue on, and will evolve as environmental conditions demand, and will often include hybrid opportunities that combine in-person with virtual participation.

As we get our conference legs back under us, let’s still celebrate this slow return to the “people oriented business” that this service area of environmental consulting is based on. Whether as a consultant, site owner, regulatory, academic, or community member, the ability to meet, discussion, ponder, develop, and socialize is as much a part of our practice, as are the technical developments. Among many such conferences, two of our favorite international conferences include:

Whether attending in person or wishing to find presenters after the fact for continuing conversation, it is a thrill to see us getting back to the community oriented sharing and technical transfer presentations by which the solutions to complex environmental problems are often developed.   

BBJ Group Principal Scott Warner will be presenting on two topics at the Battelle Palm Springs event:

  • “The Practitioners Perspective of Zero-Valent iron as Pragmatic Media for Contaminant Remediation: It’s not 1995 Anymore" (Tuesday, May 24)
  • ANTHYM: The Anthropogenic Conceptual Model for Groundwater Remedy Design Under Climate Change (Wednesday, May 25)



[1] Origins of the First National Medical Convention 1826-1846

[2] Milestones: First Technical Meeting of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1884

[3] December 27, 1888: The Geological Society of America is founded.

[4] ABA Timeline



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