This post is only vaguely related to Sunil's post on vendor shows where the main attraction is the freebies.
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Major conferences -- and especially those that happen in convention centers and star hotels (such as this BIG one starting this Monday) -- cost a lot money, and are impossible to organize without support from industry. In materials science conferences, sponsors tend to be makers of experimental equipment -- electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes, nano-indenters, vacuum systems, furnaces, etc. These sponsors get to set up a stall at the conference venue, and display their products and/or brochures. Since most of the stuff they sell are very, very expensive, all that a conference participant can hope for -- by way of freebies -- are glossy, colorful brochures.
My wife, who is an ophthalmologist, attends conferences where the sponsors are makers of expensive diagnostic equipment as well as pharmaceutical companies. Thus, she comes back with brochures and bags full of all kinds of medicines.
Some years ago, she went to a meeting at Salem, Tamil Nadu. For whatever reason, the organizers of this event ended up getting a sponsorship from a major neighborhood company whose product line has nothing to do with ophthalmology.
Result? My wife came back from this meeting with brochures, medicines and severral packets of masala powder (sambhar, rasam, garam masala, ...). And who do you think was this unconventional sponsor of an ophthalmology conference?