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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1935:   Photochemical Reactions, Vol. III

Organizer: Reginald Harris

Table of Contents

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Tragically, this was the last Symposium that Harris organized. He died of pneumonia, aged only 37, on 7 January, 1936. The memoir included in the Biological Laboratory's Annual Report stated that he completed all the work for the publication of the 1935 volume in just "...three and one-half months, and the vast amount of work which he did upon this volume may have contributed to a reduced resistance to the disease which was the cause of his death." But the Symposia has proved themselves and they continued and flourished.

The early Symposia were not given titles but Harris suggested that the third Symposium might be called "The Interaction of Ourselves and Things Around us with Light". This was a topic that exemplified a biophysical approach to biology, for ultimately all life depends on the interactions of photons with pigments like chlorophyll. It was, however, an unusual choice and Harris worked hard in his introduction to justify the bringing together of such a disparate set of researchers.

The topics, he wrote, had a unity but one that was not obvious in an academic setting where natural science was divided into fields, separated by fences and hedgerows. Then, "it becomes difficult to look from one field to the next, and absolutely impossible to see into a field two or three fences away." Harris felt that the topic of the Symposium was one in which much progress had been made in removing the "weeds, shrubs and

trees" that separated one field from the next. The meeting began with a series of papers dealing with physical aspects of the interactions of light with molecules, although Hugo Fricke managed to include a paper on the effects of X-rays on water and Demerec' contribution-on the inheritance of chlorophyll-was also a little out of the main stream of the meeting. One paper was by Dean Burk and Hans Lineweaver on "The kinetic mechanism of photosynthesis"; this was an appropriate strategy for them-in the previous year they had published what is the second most cited paper in biology, developing the Lineweaver-Burk plot for determining enzyme kinetics. Also of note is George Wald's paper on the visual purple system. Wald had identified vitamin A in the retina in 1933 and in the year of the Symposium had extracted retinene and here he discussed the relationship between light, vitamin A and retinene. 33 years later Wald shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Jan A. Witkowski

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