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FRC - Past, Present & Future 

FRC - Past, Present & Future

by Joel Panek

I first learned about the Fundamental Research Symposium when I was 19 years old, as a chemical engineering student at Michigan Technological University.  My interest in the paper industry was built while I worked summers at a paper mill in my home town.  I was drawn to the technical side of papermaking and recycling, but hadn’t yet discovered a passion for research.  That changed when I purchased the book ‘Fundamentals of Papermaking Fibres (‘transactions of the symposium held at Cambridge, September 1957)’ at a used book sale, for a mere 50 cents.   I was fascinated by the pictures, the drawings, the topics . . . and the discussions!   This book kicked off a desire to learn more, to question more, to understand what is truly driving behaviour, to predict.

Over the years, I accumulated copies of most of the proceedings (some in better shape than others!) and now have access to every single paper and discussion (thanks to digital files).  I’ve had the pleasure of attending the past 4 symposia, including the privileges of presenting a paper and chairing a session.  I’ve met and got to know many of the key contributors and organisers (which somehow or another led to the honour of being the current Chair of the FRC!).   I appreciate the strong foundation that has been built and look forward to continuing the contributions that the FRC makes to our industry.  Toby Rance and Steve I’Anson previously wrote histories from 1954-1997 and 1997-2009, respectively (which can also be found on the website and I highly recommend to read), which include details on the initiation, goals, and practicalities many of which have carried through the most recent symposium in 2017.   This is a brief essay on the past, present, and future. 

The Fundamental Research Symposium has a long and rich history in our industry.  They have been held every 4 years since 1957, alternating between the English Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  High quality original research and reviews have been presented & published, becoming classic literature in our industry and excellent reference material.  Hard bound books are still published (including the discussions!) providing a sense of stability, permanence, and value.  Most importantly, the symposia are a forum to connect people, organisations, research communities, regions, and generations.

The founders of the Fundamental Research Symposium had a vision to bring together the top researchers in the world to advance the fundamentals of producing paper, one area at a time.   It was never meant to be simply a gathering of academics and exchange of knowledge – rather, the founders saw the importance of fundamental research and collaboration to solve practical problems and to advance the use of paper. 

All good research must have a phase of such probing into the fundamentals, unless these have already been clarified by earlier work . . . fundamental means essential; primary; important; that which serves as a groundwork. It is with our feet on the ground, not our heads in the clouds, that we face this week's deliberations. – Rance (1965)

It struck me, as it must have done you also, that these symposia have offered a remarkable combination of fundamental concepts and specific applications.  This, in my estimation, is one of the greatest achievements of the symposium.  The organizing committee has succeeded in assembling a group of capable men to present research material of a fundamental nature, who are equally capable of interpreting such material in the light of practical problems. - Gallay (1965)

Above all, the function of these Symposia has been the stimulation of ideas and innovation.  They provide a forum for the interaction of the keenest minds in the industry, for generation of new lines of attack on old problems, and for generation of new problems and new avenues of development whose solution will be the challenge and achievement of the future.  This is an unending process of shared learning, of shared understanding, which has had and will continue to have a profound effect upon the practical realities of our calling.  - Rance (1977)

The initial symposia were defined by a theme.  A theme was picked in advance and researchers were asked to make related contributions.  The first 3 were a progression of the papermaking process, from the nature and preparation of fibers, to formation of the web, to consolidation into a sheet:  Fundamentals of Papermaking Fibres (1957), Formation and Structure of Paper (1961), Consolidation of the Paper Web (1965); the next was a foray into Papermaking Systems and their Control (1969);  while the symposia of the 1970s addressed the properties of paper and then fibre – water interactions: The Fundamental Properties of Paper Related to its Uses (1973), Fibre-Water Interactions in Paper-making (1977).  The contributions provided a foundation for discussion, for thinking, for collaboration, for advancement. 

Jumping ahead, the symposia in the 2000s have been inclusive of all areas related to paper, recognising the broad spectrum of quality research, rapid advances, and the expansive reach of paper and cellulosic based materials.  Each symposium now bears a name that capture its comprehensive nature:  “Advances in Pulp and Paper Research”.  Each symposium has been characterised by papers across a broad range of subjects, which have ranged from pulp preparation to coating & printing to nanocellulose to microfluidics.  Many thorough and insightful review papers have been published.  Attendees have come from a wide range of disciplines, experience levels, and regions around the world.  And during the 2000s, the FRC has progressed into the digital age.  All the proceedings were converted to electronic pdf files and made available first on CD and now on flash drives.  Digital platforms were launched, including a website, and LinkedIn & Twitter accounts.  These steps have enabled greater access to the proceedings and faster and broader communication. 

The Fundamental Research Committee (also known as the FRC, the group that organises and runs the symposia) currently consists of 21 individuals from around the world, from Australia, Japan, and China, to Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, and the UK to Canada and the US.   This group ranges from academia to industrial and brings a broad range of experience, technical expertise, and perspectives. 

Recently, the FRC spelled out its mission:  to provide forums to advance science and engineering fundamentals for the pulp & paper industry and its interconnected products and processes.

We will continue to be a living & breathing forum, not just a repository of results & conclusions nor just a snapshot of existing research.  Through discussions and interactions, we’ll stimulate ideas and generate new thoughts, identify different lines of research, produce additional insights. 

We’ll continue to advance fundamentals and contribute to the development and application of products and processes in our industry.  Fundamental knowledge and tools are the building blocks for discovery, elucidation, and optimisation.  The better we understand, the better we predict; the better we predict, the better we can meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.    

We recognise that our industry goes beyond traditional pulp & paper products and process, and includes all sorts of paperboard packaging, cellulosic based materials, and applications of nanocellulose.  Our interrelated products can be and should be the materials of choice.  Part of our job is to help make this happen.   In our next symposium, we plan to include a panel to discuss ‘Technical challenges limiting broader use of paper and cellulose-based materials in the global economy’.   The goals will be to address technical issues, gaps in knowledge, and misconceptions that affect manufacturing, performance, and recyclability; and to identify opportunities for research & education to maximise the use of existing & new products and markets.

We look forward to seeing you at the next Fundamental Research Symposium!


Joel C Panek

FRC Chair

April 26, 2020

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