History of GRC

History of GRC 

From their modest origins in summer meetings held at Johns Hopkins University in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Gordon Research Conferences have expanded to attract nearly 40,000 participants annually to one of over 395 conferences held around the world. The remarkable growth of GRC since its first official conference in 1931 is due to its adherence to the principles of free and open discussion of research at the frontiers of science.  Below you will find information about GRC's rich history and the five executives who have led the organization.



A Brief Overview of GRC

The first meeting of what was to become the Gordon Research Conferences took place at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, in the summer of 1931. The meeting was convened by Professor Neil E. Gordon, a member of the chemistry faculty. Dr. Gordon's interest was to bring together a group of scientists working at the frontier of research of a particular area to discuss, in depth, all aspects of the most recent advances in the field and to stimulate new directions for research. GRC continues this tradition of fostering scientific communities that focus on the latest, unpublished research at the frontiers of the field.

From 1931 to 1947, the conferences met in the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland. For several years, the meetings were structured as a summer school at Johns Hopkins. In search of a more isolated meeting site, the conferences moved to Gibson Island, Maryland in the mid-1930s. At about the same time, the conferences affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and were organized as the AAAS-Gibson Island Chemical Research Conferences. This continued until 1946, when Neil Gordon retired.

In 1947, the conferences moved to Colby Junior College (now Colby-Sawyer College where GRC continues to operate) in New London, New Hampshire, and were named the Gordon Research Conferences in honor of Neil Gordon. In the summer of 1947, there were 10 Gordon Research Conferences. In 1956, the Gordon Research Conferences incorporated in New Hampshire as a nonprofit, tax exempt organization devoted to scientific and educational purposes. The GRC presence in New England has grown steadily over the years. GRC currently operates at venues in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island and host more than 20 meetings per week during the summer.

In 1963, the Polymers Conference moved to Santa Barbara, California, founding GRC's West Coast winter series. In 1980, winter operations moved to Ventura, California, and in 2009, expanded to include a new site in Galveston, Texas. GRC now holds more than 70 meetings each year, January through May, in California and Texas.

In 1990, responding to the international growth of research and technology, the Gordon Research Conferences began to hold meetings outside of the U.S. The first meetings were in Volterra, in northern Italy. The international conferences have grown steadily and GRC currently holds more than 100 meetings annually in Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Hong Kong.

In 1996, the first Gordon Research Seminar (GRS) was held in conjunction with a Gordon Research Conference. The GRS program provides a forum for graduate students and postdocs to present their own work in a non-intimidating environment, to build collaborative networks with their peers, and prepare them for active participation at an associated GRC. Beginning in 2005, additional conferences began holding Gordon Research Seminars in conjunction with their meetings.  The program has grown steadily ever since with the majority of GRCs now holding an associated GRS.

From its modest beginnings in the early 1930s to the present day, Gordon Research Conferences has grown in size and scope, but its vision and purpose remain the same - to build communities that provide an informal and important forum for the presentation and discussion of research at the frontiers of science.

Past Directors

 Carlyle B. Storm

Director from 1993-2003

Carlyle B. Storm is Director Emeritus of the Gordon Research Conferences.

Carl was the Director of the Gordon Research Conferences from 1993 until September of 2003. He received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the Johns Hopkins University. After post doctoral work at Stanford University (coordination chemistry) and the NIH (metalloproteins) he joined the faculty at Howard University in 1968. His research at Howard was in the areas of inorganic biochemistry, porphyrin chemistry, geochemistry, and magnetic resonance. In 1985 he moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a staff member in the energetic materials program. When he retired from Los Alamos in 1993 he was Chief Scientist for the Energetic Materials and Testing Division. He was the founding Chair of the Energetic Materials GRC and over the years has participated in the Metals in Biology, Tetrapyrroles, Isotopes in Biological and Chemical Sciences, and Organic Geochemistry meetings.

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 Alexander M. Cruickshank

Director from 1968-1993

Alexander M. Cruickshank was a Director Emeritus of the Gordon Research Conferences.

Alex was born in Marlboro, New Hampshire December 13, 1919. He moved to Westerly, Rhode Island at age 10. He took his B.S. in chemistry at Rhode Island State College in 1943. While working at Rhode Island State College as an instructor he took his M.S. in chemistry in 1945. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts in 1954. Alex served on the chemistry faculty at the University of Rhode Island from 1953 to 1982 and was Chair of the Chemistry Department from 1976 to 1982.

The Gordon Research Conferences moved from Gibson Island in Maryland to Colby Junior College, New London, New Hampshire in 1947. In that summer of 1947, Alex Cruickshank spent 10 weeks as the site manager for the Gordon Research Conferences and his wife, Irene, served as Conference secretary. Alex continued as the New Hampshire operations manager and Assistant Director for GRC until 1968. When George Parks retired as Director, Alex assumed that position. He served as Director until his retirement in 1993 (a total of 47 years of service with GRC).   GRC's  Board of Trustees established the Alexander M. Cruickshank Lectures to honor Alex's service.  GRC Conference Chairs nominate exceptional speakers from their conferences to be considered by the Board for this prestigious lectureship which is awarded annually in the Biological, Chemical, and Physical sciences.  Alex died in June 2017.


 W. George Parks

Director from 1947-1968

W. George Parks was the second Director of the Gordon Research Conferences.

Parks was born in Rockwood, Pennsylvania on December 20, 1904. After attending the University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree, Parks went to Columbia University in New York, where he earned both Master's and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry. His 1931 doctoral thesis was titled "The Activity Coefficients and Heats of Transfer of Cadmium-Sulfate from Electromotive Force Measurements at 25 And 0 Degrees". Upon graduation, Parks accepted a position on the faculty at Rhode Island State College, later renamed the University of Rhode Island, where he taught for thirty-seven years as a chemistry professor.

In 1947, Parks was appointed director of what would soon become the Gordon Research Conferences. Among his first acts was to select a new venue for the conferences: Colby Junior College in New London, New Hampshire, where Parks was a trustee. He also hired Alexander and Irene Cruickshank to assist in the administrative operations and running of the conferences. After running ten conferences in the summer of 1947, the GRC headquarters were moved to the University of Rhode Island. During the next two decades, Parks presided over steady growth in the number of conferences and attendees.

In 1950, Parks became chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Rhode Island. In 1968, after twenty-one years as director of GRC, Parks resigned and Alexander Cruickshank assumed directorship of the conferences. Parks also resigned his post as professor at the University of Rhode Island, but continued on as professor emeritus until his death in October 1975.

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 Neil E. Gordon

Director from 1931-1947

Neil E. Gordon was the founder of the Gordon Research Conferences.

Born on October 7, 1886, Neil Elbridge Gordon grew up in a central New York farmhouse, the third of four children. From a young age, Gordon enjoyed his studies, math in particular, and was often seen doing household chores with a book in hand. A studious young man, Gordon quickly set his sights on a career in academia. After graduating from high school in just two years, he attended Syracuse Business School, then Syracuse University, where he received his Ph.B. (Bachelor of Philosophy) in 1911, majoring in mathematics and minoring in chemistry. In 1912, he received a Master's Degree from Syracuse before attending Johns Hopkins University for his Ph.D., which he earned in 1917, this time with a major in chemistry and a minor in mathematics.

After several relatively short teaching stints, Gordon settled in at Maryland State Agricultural College, soon to be named the University of Maryland, as Assistant Professor of Physical and Organic Chemistry. After two years, Gordon was promoted to professor and also asked to chair the chemistry department, where he served for eight years. In the interim, Gordon helped found the ACS Section (later Division) of Chemical Education and launched the Journal of Chemical Education in January 1924.

In 1928, Gordon resigned from the University of Maryland to accept the newly established Francis P. Garvan Chair of Chemical Education at Johns Hopkins University. Building on experiences with organizing scientific discussions as an undergraduate, Gordon took over an intermittent set of meetings that had been held in the chemistry department since the mid-1920s. In 1931, Gordon organized the first formal conference; its success in stimulating discussion on various cutting-edge scientific topics led to additional week-long conferences in subsequent years. Starting in 1934, the conferences were held on nearby Gibson Island.

To the surprise of colleagues and family, Gordon resigned from his position at Johns Hopkins University and accepted a post as Chairman of the Chemistry Department at Central College in Missouri in 1936. At Central College, Gordon established the Hooker Scientific Library, later renamed the Kresge-Hooker Scientific Library, and became Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS]. He also renewed his involvement in the "AAAS-Gibson Island Conferences", as they were then called, and was named their first director. In the spring of 1942, Gordon left Central College for a post as Chairman of the Chemistry Department at Wayne University in Detroit, taking with him the Hooker Scientific Library and continuing his participation in the research conferences. In 1946, Gordon resigned as director of the Conferences. Shortly thereafter, in 1947, Gordon resigned from the Chemistry Department at Wayne University. In 1948, shortly before his death, the research conferences were formally renamed the Gordon Research Conferences in his honor. Neil Elbridge Gordon died in May 1949.

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