I had lunch today with a friend & former colleague who sells some cool genomics gadgets. One thing I've noted about him is whenever we meet he has a part of his system with him; it's striking how often this isn't the case (he's also been kind enough to leave me one).
Now, different systems have different sorts of gadgets with different levels of portability and attractiveness. The PacBio instrument is reputed to weigh in at one imperial ton, making it impractical for bringing along. Far too many folks are selling molecular biology reagents, which all come in the same sorts of Eppendorf tubes.
But on the other hand, there are plenty of cool parts that can be shown off. Flowcells for sequencers are amazing devices, which I've seen far too few times in the hands of salespersons. One of the Fluidigm microfluidic disposables is quite a conversation piece -- and the best illustration for how the technology works. The ABI 3730 sequencer's 96 capillary array was so striking I once took a picture of it -- or I thought I had until I looked through the camera files. The capillaries are coated with Kapton (or a similar polymer), giving them a dark amber appearance. They are delicate yet sturdy, bending over individually but in an organized fashion.
However, my most favorite memory of a gadget was an Illumina 96-pin bead array device. The beads are small enough that they produce all sorts of interesting optical effects -- 96 individually mounted opals!
Of course, those gadgets are not cheap. However, any well run manufacturing process is going to have failures, which is a good source for display units. Yes, if you have a really good process you won't generate any defective products, but given the rough state of the field I'm a bit suspicious of a process whose downstream QC never finds a problem. In any case, even if you can't afford to give them away at least the major trade show representatives should carry one. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an actual physical object is worth exponentially more in persuasive ability.
One final thought. Given the rapidly changing nature of the business, many of these devices have very short lifetimes (in some cases because the company making them has a similarly short lifetime). I sincerely hope some museum is collecting examples of these, as they are important artifacts of today's technology. Plus, I really could imagine an art installation centered around some 3730 capillaries & Illumina bead arrays.