James W. Brown

Associate Professor & Undergraduate Coordinator
Department of Microbiology, NC State University

The RNA Society Newsletter, Jan/Feb 2008

Pace Symposium & Family Reunion

James Brown, Department of Microbiology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA 27695-7615

On October 26th and 27th, the University of Colorado-Boulder held the Pace Symposium, or in characteristic informality, the “Molecular Diversity from the Pace Perspective...Let’s continue to Discuss” Symposium.

The Symposium subtitle refers to perhaps the best-known of many of Norm’s idiosyncratic turns of phrase. It was on the first or second day as a postdoc in Norm’s lab, then at Indiana University, that I first experience it. He and I were chatting in the hallway outside of his office, and I thought the discussion had come to an end. But Norm insisted that we “continue to discuss this”; and then inexplicably turned and walked away! Someone in the lab (Gary Olsen, I think) had to explain to me that this common phrase contains an implicit “... some other time” and in reality means “I’m right, and I’ll convince you some other time.”

The Pace Symposium was organized by current members of the Pace lab: Donnie Evans, Cheryl Rapp and Leah Feazel, as well as the recently-departed (from the Pace lab) John Spear. The Symposium was said to be either in honor of Norm’s 65th birthday or of his being named Distinguished Professor by the CU Board of Regents. These may have been the rationalizations given to potential financial supporters, but no such excuse was necessary for the rest of us; all of the Normites who could be tracked down and invited came.

Speakers were chosen from ex-students and postdocs who continued their work either on molecular microbial ecology (“the Search”) or RNase P after leaving Norm’s lab: Mitch Sogin, Jim Brown, Gary Olsen, Bruce Jakosky, Mike Harris, Hazel Barton, Esther Angert, Scott Kelley, Phil Hugenholtz, Ed DeLong and Scott Dawson. The Keynote Address was by Norm himself, who treated us to a photographic history tour of the science and people of the lab, followed by an impassioned discussion of the misguided term “prokaryote”, and the fundamentally flawed perspective from which it arises. When asked about the correct spelling of this defective word, Norm replied in his best Ringmaster voice, “A ‘C’ or a ‘K’, it doesn’t matter, they’re both WRONG, just WRONG!” He was, of course, preaching to the choir.

Scientific meetings are always mixtures of science and social activities, and the Pace Symposium was no exception. The breadth and quality of science presented formally and discussed informally at this meeting are tributes to Norm’s scientific mentorship. But where this meeting was really special was its social aspect; it was much more than a chance to network with colleagues, it was a family reunion. We’re all hoping this becomes a regular event....

The Symposium was supported by the Agouron Institute, ISC Bioexpress, MBARI, the John Spear lab at the Colorado School of Mines, the RNA Society, Applied Biosystems, the Larry Gold lab at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the Department of MCD Biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

nullLast updated May 30, 2009 by James W Brown