History Structural Biology files The International Community in Structural Biology

Bringing the international community together


During 1978-80 when I was getting to grips with XAFS instrumentation, theory and analysis, David Garner was asked in the summer of 1980 by the Royal Society of Chemistry to organise a workshop for the chemistry community so that the technique would become more widely accessible to that community. I was acutely aware that EXAFS groups worldwide were working on similar problems (theory, instrumentation and data analysis packages) in this rapidly developing field. It was thus an opportunity to bring together experts from Europe and the United states. Daresbury was good at organising focussed meetings called “study weekends”, which were held over a weekend. After some discussions, Dave was persuaded that if we were to include ‘inorganic systems’ in the title, the RSC would be happy. This was needed as the request had come from the Inorganic Division of the RSC.  We thus called the study weekend “EXAFS for Inorganic Systems”. With a modest contribution from the RSC and strong backing from the Daresbury directorate, we were able to include three speakers from the USA (Peter Eisenberger from Bell Labs, Ed Stern from Seattle and Steve Cramer from Exxon), three from continental Europe (Peter Rabe from DESY/Keele, Antonio Bianconi from Rome and Alain Fontaine from Orsay) and a number of speakers from the UK (John Pendry, the late Robert Pettifer, David Norman and myself). It was sufficiently successful and filling a much-needed gap, so it was spontaneously decided to make this a conference series that is still growing. Daresbury Laboratory published the proceedings of the meeting (DL/SCI/R17); it is held every 3 years now. The last conference was held in Karlsruhe on 23-28 August 2015 with some 500 delegates. In 1990, it returned to the UK when I organized the conference in York.

Delegates of the 9th Intenational BSR conference jointly organised by Louise Johnson  and Samar Hasnain in Manchester 13-17 August 2007

The availability of synchrotron radiation provided a real boost to biophysical methods in the early 1980’s. Following a study weekend organised by Greg Diakun in 1984, the first international conference on ‘Biophysics and Synchrotron Radiation (BSR)’ took place in Frascati in 1986. In 1988 I, together with Joan Bordas, organised the second conference in the series in the beautiful city of Chester only 15 miles away from Daresbury with generous support from the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr). The conference produced a well referenced book “Synchrotron Radiation and Biophysics” published by Ellis Horwood where many of the synchrotron pioneers (Ian Munro, Roger Fourme, Keith Hodgson, Louise Johnson, Janos Hajdu, Watson Fuller, John Helliwell, David Garner, Wayne Hendrickson, Heinrich Stuhrmann, Yoshiyuki Amemiya, Malcolm Howells, Ed Rubenstein, Ron Burge, etc) contributed authoritative chapters.  I was pleased to bring this conference back to the UK in 2007 when I had the pleasure of chairing the 9th conference in the series with one of my mentors, the late Dame Louise Johnson, FRS.  The conference attracted some 300 delegates with a number of Nobel laureates (Venki Ramakrishnan, Hans Deisenhoffer and Hartmut Michel) as plenary speakers.  Other plenary speakers included Tom Blundell, David Stuart, Keith Hodgson, Janos Hajdu, Dmitri Svergun, Malcolm Irving and So Iwata. The twelfth conference in the series will be held in Stanford 21-24 August 2016.