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Inter/Micro - The First 60 Years

Excerpted from the “Evening with Brian” presentation given at Inter/Micro 2008 by Brian J. Ford of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, England.

At eight o’clock on the morning of Thursday June 10, 1948, Professor Paul L. Copeland rose to his feet and cleared his throat. Neatly attired in dark suit and tie, he welcomed the assembled delegates to an unusual meeting: an assembly of light and electron microscopists. The gathering was in the Stevens Hotel, Chicago.

The idea for the conference had arisen from a conversation between two young Armour scientists. One was an electron microscopist, Charlie Tufts; the other was a light microscopist named Walter McCrone who retained his connection with the conference until the day he died.

On March 29, 1948, Tufts and McCrone had sent round their formal announcement, a typed, duplicated letter that set out what they had in mind. “The subjects considered will include the application of light and electron microscopy to metals, plastics, biology, fine particles, fibers . . . there will be ample opportunity for the exchange of ideas and problems,” they wrote.

The conference attracted some 200 eager delegates, and McCrone and Tufts were eager to gain feedback from this spectacular launch. They asked Theodore G. Rochow of the Cyanamid Company for his response, with no punches pulled. On July 26, 1948, he wrote a lengthy missive setting out his feelings. One section in particular stands out today: “The informality which accompanied this year’s symposium should be a part of this tradition,” he wrote. In Rochow’s view, this was the ideal way to encourage the exchange of cutting-edge thinking. He also pointed out that findings could be discussed “a long while before they would appear in print.”

These were prophetic observations. The haste with which the first meeting was arranged gave it an air of informality that lives on to this day. There is no “top table” at the banquets; leaders in the field are usually seated next to relative newcomers and the free interchange of ideas remains a hallmark of our annual meeting.

The evolution of the modern conference, and its name, are part of the continuing narrative. Homes for the meeting included Brighton, Leeds and London; and all are part of the story. We follow the conference to Cambridge University, England, where delegates went racing on punts down the river at night until apprehended by the police, and those who stopped out too late had to climb the walls to return to their rooms.

Then the history takes us to the McCormick Inn, on to downtown Chicago and the lecture room at the Talbott Hotel, which became increasingly over-crowded, until our return to the refurbished Knickerbocker and its connections with Richard Nixon, Al Capone, Hugh Hefner and the Rolling Stones. Significant people from the past are featured in a narrative that concludes with today’s young talents, all of them building on the vision of Walter C. McCrone.

Read the related article from The Microscope 56 (2), 2008.