History

This section contains a historical essay about the Gordon Research Conferences organization. Use the links below or in the main menu to navigate between the different sections of the essay.

Results and Impact
Gordon Research Conferences have an important relationship with advances in science, technology, and medicine. The unique format and operating rules have led to remarkable growth and expansion of the conferences; they have also contributed to breakthroughs and innovations ranging from core theoretical advances to new medicines and consumer products. A range of outcomes are described firsthand by contributors to GRC's anniversary volume, Reflections from the Frontiers. The representative sample presented here illustrates the range of areas in which GRC attendees contributed to important scientific developments.

Theoretical Knowledge

Gordon Research Conferences are key locations for the exchange of ideas and critical perspectives that lead to new understandings of basic mechanisms for biological, chemical, and physical systems.
  • The mechanism and structure of ATP synthase was reported by both Paul Boyer and John Walker at the 1981 Bioenergetics Conference.
  • Understanding of atomic laser cooling and Bose-Einstein condensation evolved at Atomic Physics Conferences in the 1980s and early 1990s. Six physicists who attended these conferences were awarded Nobel laureates for these achievements: Steven Chu, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, and William D. Phillips shared the prize in 1997; Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E. Wieman shared the prize in 2001.
  • The discovery of the water channel in cell membranes was made by Peter Agre in 1990. Red Cell Conferences contributed significantly to Agre's discovery, for which he received half of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2003.
  • The enzyme ecto-ADPase was discovered to be the endothelial cell CD39, a major determinant of blood fluidity, by Aaron J. Marcus in 1997 with help from discussions at the Vascular Cell Biology Conferences.
Experimental Techniques

Although Gordon Research Conferences neither showcase new instruments nor offer sites for hands-on training in new techniques, they have fostered significant advances in experimental techniques and helped scientists convince colleagues of the benefits of new approaches.
  • The use of partial least squares in solving underdetermined matrices was instrumental in helping Richard Cramer develop comparative molecular field analysis (CoMFA), now the most widely used quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) technique for computational and medicinal chemistry. Svante Wold suggested this method of solution to Cramer at the 1981 QSAR Conference (now known as the Computer Aided Drug Design Conference).
  • Polarization experiments, electrochemical impedance spectra, and the use of current potential measurements developed at the Corrosion Conferences in the 1950s and 1960s fostered understanding of the dynamics of corrosion.
  • Successful recombinant DNA (rDNA) techniques developed by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen were described at the 1973 Nucleic Acids Conference; co-chairs Maxine Singer and Dieter S´┐Żll then set aside extra time for attendees to discuss the broader implications of this breakthrough.
  • High-resolution electronic spectroscopy in molecular beams developed from a report on nonexponential behavior in the fluorescence decay of pyrazine at the 1982 Molecular Electronic Spectroscopy Conference. This report also provided laboratory evidence for the theoretical prediction of molecular eigenstates in large molecules.
Scientific Collaborations

Many Gordon Research Conferences have encouraged collaborations by attracting both experimentalists and theorists and by drawing together scientists from different disciplines.
  • The discovery of the 5? terminal cap structure in cellular and viral messenger RNAs was facilitated by the exchange of experimental findings between Robert P. Perry, Bernard Moss, Fritz Rottman, and Aaron Shatkin at the 1974 Animal Cells and Viruses Conference.
  • Jointly published papers on frustrated smectic liquid crystals and liquid crystal phase transitions were the result of a collaboration formed between Carl W. Garland and Ranganathan Shashidhar at the Liquid Crystal Conferences.
  • Identification of the T-cell receptor was confirmed by the comparison of findings from three different research groups at an impromptu late night session of the 1983 Immunobiology and Immunochemistry Conference. The group from UC Berkeley was headed James P. Allison; the Harvard group was headed by Ellis Reinherz; other participants included Kathryn M. Haskins, John W. Kappler, and Philippa Marrack.
Structural Aspects of Science and Technology

Gordon Research Conferences have been instrumental in the development of new research communities, often solidified by the formation of journals and professional associations.
  • The Society of Toxicology was formed in 1961 as a direct result of the Mechanisms of Toxicity Conference. This conference was also key to the development of the Environmental Mutagen Society in 1969.
  • The Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS), founded by Maxwell Mozell and Linda Bartoshuk in 1978, was a result of the Chemical Senses: Taste and Smell Conferences.
  • The International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX), an international drug metabolism society, was formed in 1981 by Bruce Migdalof and a small group of participants in the 1980 Drug Metabolism Conference.
  • The field of electronic materials chemistry was created and shaped largely by the Chemistry of Electronic Materials Conferences during the second half of the 1980s.
Real-World Products

Scientists developing marketable consumer goods, medicines, instruments, and industrial processes often advance their work through discussions at Gordon Research Conferences or further research stimulated by attending a GRC.
  • A better understanding of the properties and synthesis of polymers and such nonmelting thermally stable fibers as Nomex and Kevlar came out of the Polymer Conferences, which have been meeting since the 1930s.
  • Protease inhibitors used to treat HIV-AIDS were made possible by a better understanding of protease enzymes refined at the Proteolytic Enzymes and Their Inhibitors Conferences.
  • The application of eflornithine as the first new drug treatment for African sleeping sickness in over 40 years was developed by Cyrus J. Bacchi after he obtained a sample of the agent at the 1979 Polyamines Conference from Peter McCann.
  • Organic belt photoreceptors that have been used in Xerox copiers and printers since the 1980s were developed owing largely to discussions at the 1983 Organic Thin Films and Solid Surfaces Conference, a pioneer meeting for the field of organic electronics.