1997 - 2009
The History of the Pulp and Paper Fundamental Research Society
by Steve I’Anson
This article first appeared in the UK Paper Industry Journal, Paper Technology and is reproduced here by the kind permission of PITA.
Just before the 1997 Fundamental Research Symposium at Robinson College, Cambridge, Toby Rance produced a history of the Fundamental Research Committee (H.F. Rance, History of the FRC - A committee of the Pulp and Paper Fundamental Research Society, originally published in Paper Technology and reproduced by permission on the FRC’s website at http://www.ppfrs.org/historypart1.html).
This article discusses the founding of the FRC in 1954 and the organisation of the first symposium in 1957, both of which were to a large extent driven by Toby himself. Toby described the FRC’s role in organising the 10 symposia which had taken place, its history and its plans for the future. Now, more than 10 years later and with the first symposium 51 years in the past, the FRC is still in existence and it is time to bring the account up-to-date. This update will not be a report on how the FRC has changed its approach to papermaking research and its dissemination because the aims and objectives of the committee are still very similar to those expressed in Toby’s article.
Presenting at the FRC Symposia
Getting a research paper or review published in the proceedings of a FRC symposium is still as prestigious in the paper science world as any journal and the standards of refereeing are still the toughest. The programme secretary calls initially for 4 page abstracts 18 months ahead of the symposium so that they can be refereed by the FRC and assembled into a coherent first draft of the programme. This unfortunately involves the rejection of 50% or more of the submissions but still does not guarantee acceptance, since the final papers are again refereed on completion.
The reviews of specific topics are invited 2 years ahead of the symposium from experts in each of the fields chosen by the FRC and are frequently long and detailed enough that they could be published as separate volumes. There have been changes to the way we work but most of these have been driven by the clear benefits to be had from the use of 21st century technology.
Changes in Presentation Technology
For the 10th symposium in 1997, the presentations were made using 35 mm slides, with OHP transparencies considered an alternative of lesser quality. The papers were formatted by authors into camera-ready copy to avoid the delays and cost of full typesetting, transcription was done by a team of professional secretaries who took shorthand notes to accompany taped recordings and communication between FRC members was by largely by telephone and fax, since some members (not all old) had yet to discover email and connection speeds still often limited attachment sizes.
At the 2009 FRC symposium at St Anne’s College Oxford, presentations in the beautifully equipped Mary Ogilvie lecture theatre will be made using the now universal computer technology which allows slides, video clips and animations to be mixed effortlessly to produce presentations which would have required a TV production team 12 years before.
The FRC’s quest for excellence, and to continue to be the best pulp and paper science and engineering conference, will require that we have a technician on hand to avoid those annoying interludes where the presenter thrashes the computer keyboard, perspiring slightly, while the delegates gossip amongst themselves or exit for a breath of fresh air. We expect our delivery to be as smooth as when the session chair and AV technician had overseen the pre-loading of slides into a set of carousels for a full morning or afternoon, as was the practice in times gone by.
The proceedings will still be produced in hardbacked volumes, two in the delegate bags and one with the transcribed discussion sessions and any prepared discussion contributions, as always, but typesetting and printing will be done digitally, allowing even shorter lead times and therefore more up-to-date content. This process improves quality over the “camera-ready copy” days but not over the original typeset books from the 50s and 60s, although the preprints will not now require an additional print run (as Toby describes) since they will be posted on the FRC’s symposium website.
The discussion after every paper will still be transcribed but the 14th symposium will be the second to use digital recording which will be transcribed off-site, with both recordings and transcriptions being communicated by via the internet. We will, however, still have postgraduate students from around the world passing round the microphones and, as a last check on the identity of contributors, taking a digital photo of each, and the transcription of each question and answer will still be available for editing by its contributor during the next session.
The bedrooms in the college will now be en suite and each will have an internet connection available, giving unheard of luxury by the standards of 1957, but accommodation prices will be kept low to ensure that we maintain the ambiance of our scholarly community of paper experts, being together in a college in one of the oldest and most dignified universities in the world.
Publishing the Proceedings
The FRC has, over its 50+ years, used a range of publishers to produce the collection of books which grace the shelves of many offices and libraries. This has made many of the originals difficult or impossible to obtain for those wishing to replace well-thumbed originals, or indeed for those younger researchers and institutions who have become aware that the collected proceedings are the cream of our subject area. This was one of the main reasons why, a few years ago, just after the 2001 symposium at Keble College, Oxford, the FRC decided to re-publish the whole series using its own name as publisher.
This was always going to be a mammoth task since there were somewhere between 35 and 40 thousand pages, and very few of these were available in any other way than in the surviving volumes, since original publishers did not exist or did not have the plates. Not wanting to entertain poor quality alternatives, the committee considered getting the whole lot re-keyed, proof-read and typeset; drawings expertly traced, colour plates re-produced photographically. Fortunately for the financial reserves of the FRC and the reserves of patience of its members, we did not have to tackle the task in this way, but again resorted to modern technology.
The 2001 symposium was the first for which there was a CD which came with volume 3 containing all 3 volumes in a linked, searchable format and it seemed a great idea that all the previous proceedings should be re-published in a similar way. The ensuing investigation of the technology revealed that we could, to our surprise, have the best of both worlds. The books could be scanned page by page using modern equipment which would preserve the appearance and squareness of the original books, limited only by whatever discolouration and other deterioration had occurred over the intervening decades.
By replacing odd damaged pages with better examples owned by members of the committee, the expert contractors amassed good, clean images of every page. What they then managed to do was to perform OCR (optical character recognition) on these images of the pages, a process which managed to distinguish what was intended by the vast majority of the letters in the text. This almost perfect version of the text could then be searched, meaning that you could now look for occurrences of a key word or phrase in the whole of the proceedings of a symposium in seconds!
The contractors also arranged this so that you never see the digital text version, you see the image of the original page from the book and, after a search, the requested word will be highlighted in this image. The resulting files were then linked and indexed to produce a set of CDs representing the complete works of the FRC symposia, ending up even more useful (if that is possible) than the now often unavailable originals. Again, as pointed out by Toby Rance, the founding charitable principles meant that these CDs went on sale at cost price and are still available from the FRC website (http://www.ppfrs.org/).
Moving Away From Themed Symposia
A minor change from the early years discussed by Toby Rance in his history, is the move away from having an overall theme for each symposium. The next meeting in the series at St Anne’s, Oxford from 13th – 18th September 2009 will have the title “Advances in Pulp and Paper Research, Oxford 2009” and is deliberately designed so that nobody working in paper science and engineering should be deterred from submitting a paper.
In these days when it is often necessary to have a submission accepted before a company or university will allow you to travel to an overseas conference, exclusive themes can make it difficult for our regular delegates to attend. This strategy also ensures that there is something for everyone at the meeting over the full range from headbox flows to wet-end chemistry. The full programme is not yet ready for 2009 because the deadline for abstracts is not long past and the FRC members are all fitting in the first stage of refereeing between their usual work. The reviews, however, have been agreed and commissioned in keeping with the long tradition of the FRC symposia.
These will form the next tranche of the continuously evolving textbook started by Toby Rance and his colleagues more than 50 years ago. There will be some other differences but these will again be minor acceptances of progress in the world outside, perhaps the biggest being the provision of online registration, although it will still be possible to pay by cheque or arrange to be invoiced, if an order number is included, and a credit card will obviously do nicely. We at the FRC believe the 2009 fundamental research symposium will be as good as ever and we will be asking long-serving member Brian Attwood to judge for us, as he has attended all of them.