Starting in 1964 a series of triennial meetings on aspects of electron density distributions, referred to as the "Sagamore" conferences, began. Why did they start? Who provided the impetus? What are they really about? And what is their future? This summary is intended as an introduction to new attendees and a historical summary for those of us old enough to enjoy the reminiscence.
Why "Sagamore"? The name is that of an American Indian
tribe and the place name Sagamore is found many times in New
England. Our particular Sagamore was a hunting lodge in the Adirondack
hills of Upper New York State, situated on a lake now bearing its
name. The isolated location is near the better known Lake Raquette
which is named from the snow shoes worn by the patriots fleeing
towards Canada in 1776 ( a sudden thaw caused them to throw their snow
shoes, shaped like "rackets" into the lake!). In 1893 a wealthy
William Durant centred his financial empire (railroads and real
estate) at Lake Raquette and built a number of lakeside lodges in the
area, Sagamore being the first one intended to be habitable in winter
as well as summer. One decade and one divorce later, bankrupt, he was
forced to sell to Alfred Vanderbilt who carried out many improvements
( water, sewerage, roads and a private railway). He left the property
to his widow who continued the improvements into the 1920s and the
Sagamore lodge remained a centre for "the gaming crowd" up to the
second world war. In 1956, after a period of neglect by its owner, it
was given to the University of Syracuse, a pioneer in the field of
residential adult education, to be used to further its summer
programmes. The "Sagamore" that some of our eminences grises know is
shown in the accompanying photograph. A second photograph shows some
of the participants at that first event
: do you recognise them? Do
they recognise themselves after 35 years, I wonder?
Click on the photograph to see full photo with higher resolution.
One name is paramount: Dick Weiss. He is a physicist who, in the 1960s worked at Watertown Arsenal (more correctly described as the US Army Materials Research Agency) near Boston, Massachusetts and one of his jobs was to organise materials research conferences which were held at Sagamore. In 1964 it was decided that the subject of the 11th meeting would be Charge and Spin Density and that this would be a truly international meeting with the US Army picking up the tab for a considerable part of the action. There was a strong x-ray group at Watertown, Dick himself had worked on neutron and x-ray diffraction studies of electron density and was later to be instrumental in the resurgence of Compton scattering studies of electron momentum density (his book on X-ray determination of electron density (North Holland 1965) is still a valuable primer). The meeting (Sagamore I) brought together the glitterati of the x-ray and neutron field ( Cliff Shull from Oak Ridge, George Hall from Nottingham, Art Freeman from MIT, Marty Blume fron BNL, Steve Berko from Bandeis, Bruce Forsyth from Harwell............) in an isolated venue that nurtured informal contacts rowing on the lake, drinking in the bar, walking through the woods, just as much as the formal ones in the meeting room. The style, which set the tone for the next three decades, was for a very limited number of full length keynote presentations morning and evening for four days, contributed papers were meant to be impromptu and discussion was paramount. The afternoons were deliberately left free for informal contacts and healthy exercise! It was a formula that worked well with group sizes below 100. It is of course a formula familiar to all Gordon conference attendees.
Perhaps Dick's greatest contribution was to persuade the US Army that electron density studies were vital to military development. There was great interest in understanding the behaviour of 3d electrons in those very strategic metals iron, cobalt, nickel and copper, with extinction problems providing trials and tribulations in the interpretation of x-ray diffraction data. In an article in Physics Today (1965 p 43) Dick prophesied that by the year 2064 the US Army would specify tanks on the basis of knowledge of the wavefunctions of the materials from which they would be fabricated, since everything would then be calculable..... Tongue-in-cheek, or not, he was successful in obtaining continuation funding from the military.
Sagamore II was arranged in 1967 at the same venue. This time the title included momentum density alongside charge and spin, following Dick's conversion to that cause. It was consequently extended by one day and it was attended by some 80 scientists including many from Europe. On the principle that "once is innovation, twice establishes tradition" the attendees decided that the conference series should continue. The strength of the European contribution in this research area, which persists to this very day, led to the first overseas "Sagamore".
Sagamore III, at Aussios in the French Alps was organised by Felix Bertaut from the CNRS labs in Grenoble. This was my first Sagamore and I remember being overwhelmed by the presence of so many "big names" and overcome by the free bar which, thanks to Uncle Sam, lubricated scientific and no so scientific discussions throughout day and night. I do remember crawling down to breakfast to see the Finns (no names mentioned) still propping up the bar that I had left some hours earlier and looking rather more compos mentis than I felt. My first Sagamore talk found half the 100-strong contingent stuck up a mountain on a broken down bus, perhaps they thought that it was the lesser of two evils.
At around this time Dick Weiss, Felix Bertaut and I felt that some permanent organisation was needed for the organisation of future Sagamore conferences, which could not now use the USA location ( it was no longer available and our community had, in any event, grown too large for it). We approached the International Union of Crystallography, which was the natural home for our x-ray and neutron charge and spin community, if not for those rooted in momentum space, and began negotiations that led to an IUCr Commission on Charge, Spin and Momentum Density being established, first ad-interim in 1975 and then permanently in 1978 under the Felix Bertaut's chairmanship (I acted as secretary and subsequently chaired it). This gave us a respectable status, access to support for yong scientists, and a mission to do more than just run conferences. Projects to standardise analysis techniques for charge density studies (the oxalic acid project) and Compton scattering (the water project) were early examples. Currently the Commission is chaired by Mark Spackman and it continues to coordinate projects of value to the communityof which the Sagamore series is a major activity. Its commission's web page can be accessed through the www.iucr.org gateway.
Sagamore IV (1973) represented a big step: it was held in Minsk, Russia (now BieloRussia) at the invitation of Nicolai Sirota. Amazingly, and thanks to Dick Weiss' persuasive powers, it still attracted US Army funding: it was even attended by two US military. It was a triumph at a time when relations between East and West remained "difficult". The Sagamore formula of a small number of invited key note talks was maintained but the number of contributed papers grew as the need to justify increasingly scarce travel funding grew and there were naturally many Russian attendees for whom this was a cherished opportunity to interact with kindred spirits from the west. A city centre hotel venue had to be used, but the informal discursive spirit of Sagamore remained and the spiritual medium was undoubtably Russian vodka!
The European influence on the conference series persisted in Sagamore V organised by the strong Finnish x-ray group at Helsinki Univerity ( Karle Kurki-Suonio, Pekka Suortti, Timo Paakkari, Seppo Manninen....). It was held at Kiljava, a lakeside venue (very Sagamore!) North of Helsinki. Science, sauna, swimming and hotly contested table tennis competitions were lubricated by an amazing selection of home made wines (no one queried why this was a speciality of a university physics department) that were consumed during the week.
Sagamore VI (1979) moved back across the Atlantic, but this time to Canada and the hills and lakes of Quebec Province. Vedene Smith (Queen's University, Kingston) found us Mont Tremblant, which was the ultimate in log cabin luxury - it had recently been used for a meeting of the heads of the British Commonwealth. An innovation at this meeting was a "tutorial day" on the Sunday when a series of introductory lectures on the different aspects of charge density determination were given. This idea was copied at a number of subsequent meetings. The formula of limited lecture presentations (5 per day) was kept with posters in the late afternoon for those who had recovered from tennis, walking, canoeing or just catching up with their jet lag. The combination of French cuisine and north American servings ensured that everyone went home with built-in additional excess baggage.
The truly international nature of our community was reflected in the location of Sagamore VII (1982) in Japan, at Nikko a city famous for its temples. We discovered that Nikko, which sits atop a mountain, was also famous for its damp microclimate; on the excursion we were amazed to see that the rain clouds were only attached to the mountain top! Nonetheless, in a beautiful hotel which had been used for many meetings of scientists rather more famous than us, the growing complexities of partitioning charge density were discussed and for the first time the words "synchrotron radiation" appeared in the title of a talk (by Jochen Schneider). Looking back, the added value of conferences such as these is brought home by the fact that for me Sagamore VII initiated a number of research collaborations and friendships with Japanese scientists that I continue to enjoy and benefit from to this day.
This was the last Sagamore conference attended by Dick Weiss before his retirement. It is impossible to overestimate the contribution that this larger-than-life character made to bringing this community together and it is a delight to confirm that he is alive and well and writing plays and books. Try Physics in Wonderland, ( a parody of Alice in Wonderland) if you can find it, for an some good explanations of solid state physics and some truly awful puns!).
Sagamore VIII (1985) saw us back in Europe. In Sanga Säby, Sweden to be precise, a delightfully remote location that possessed all the correct Sagamore attributes ( remoteness, forests lakes...) bar one - the Scandinavians do try to tax alcohol out of existence and many longed for that US army funding that somehow eliminated the need to pay for beverages. As befits a conference organised by Ivar Olovsson, there was plenty of "chemical bonding" but we did lose the electron scattering community that Russell Bonham had brought into the Sagamore circle. The non-scientific highlight was a trip to Drottingen for a performance of Il Seraglio true to Mozart's era, limelight and all.
Sagamore IX (1988) moved to southern Europe: Luso in Portugal. It is a small spa close to the famous University town of Coimbra which claims to be one of the oldest established universities in Europe and certainly has the atmosphere that only comes from hundreds of years of tradition. The Coimbra x-ray group, led by Luiz da Veiga, took care of every detail and managed to arrange the excursion for the only day when it did not rain! It was the wettest Portuguese summer on record, but that did not seem to matter at all. Dinner in a Palace (we decided that every university should own a palace) was followed by a performance of Fado by the da Veiga family that does not fade from anyone's memory. Whereas on another evening several participants had a familiar form of amnesia after an evening of sampling wines in the Caves St. Joan!
The European emphasis continued with Sagamore X (1991) organised by Wolf Weyrich at Konstanz, Germany. A beautiful town, a beautiful lake and a modern university looking not quite so beautiful (!) but very suitable for our conference. Although the number of Sagamore attendees was only growing slowly the pressure to schedule more lectures was growing more rapidly and now 9 per day were the norm with seriously long evening sessions and even a Saturday morning discussion extending the conference into a 6th day (7th including the tutorial lectures). At the conference dinner, which followed a trip round the lake on a handsomely restored steamer, one of the "class of 64", Bruce Forsyth gave a characteristically witty speech on the past Sagamores. Bruce and the late Stephan Berko were the two most faithfully Sagamore attendees, Bruce notched up 11 meetings before calling it a day. Now only Pekka Suortti and I can equal that record. Following the lead taken at Luso conference proceedings were published.
Sagamore XI was held in Brest, France on the Brittany peninsular and was organised by Genevieve Loupias and most members of her family. The site was actually a training college for France Telecom. It probably had the best "canteen food" that we had tasted and the least comfortable beds. Whatever we remember of the science most participants will still have nightmares about the excursion which was a boat trip that coincided with "storms at sea". It would be indelicate to describe the scene further but those who opted for an inland tour of historical sites were probably the only ones to eat dinner that evening!
Most recently Sagamore XII was held in the Prince Albert national park at Waskesiu, Saskatchewan; so lakes and forests again, not to mention the odd bear! It was organised by Bev Robinson who owned a brewery, which looked like a good omen even though free samples were not on offer. It was the most heavily scheduled conference in the series, everyone who wanted to speak was accorded a slot, with lectures beginning at 8:00 am and finishing only when the last member of the audience fell asleep. Well over 50 lectures were delivered in the five days. Oh boy!
Now we look forward. Thirteen is not an unlucky number
for Sagamore and I am assured by Ludwik Dobrzynski, the organiser that
the only part of this pattern that he will repeat is the scenery and
general ambience! We look forward to a return to a more traditional
relaxed schedule in the original spirit of Sagamore in early September
Malcolm J. Cooper