2000-2020: The Electronic Age
In the opening statement of the new century, and essentially the new millennium, the Branch President, Irv Nachamkin, states in the first edition of the Branch Newsletter (January 2000):
“As we begin the 21st century, communication and cooperation between our clinical and basic science members have never been more important. This was a message brought home in a big way at our 30th annual symposium: ‘New Technologies Driving Microbiology into the 21st Century,’ held on November 4-5, 1999. The results of basic research in the areas of genomics, gene expression and computational biology will not improve human health unless there is a fundamental understanding by basic researchers about the role of the technologies in the clinical area and an understanding by clinical scientists of biological processes and pathogenesis. Why do I broach this subject?…Where it [the Branch] has failed is in attracting individuals to attend programs that are not in their field of expertise. There has never become a more important time to think beyond our “box” and become more enlightened in other areas for us to maintain a competitive edge.”
This was a valuable summary on the state of microbiology, not only as it relates to our Branch, but to microbiology in general, and was an essential message to the whole microbiology community. These remarks set the stage for the new century and placed the focus on one of the most difficult problem the Branch had to face as the new century unfolds; namely, how to get new people involved in the Branch as active members. Without success in this area, the level of activity demonstrated in previous years will not be sustainable. It is a good summary for setting the biggest challenge for the Branch and for microbiology in Philadelphia. The Branch, with its monthly programs, in addition to the symposia, workshops, forums and many projects, still makes it the most active Branch of the ASM. The Branch is struggling to maintain all these activities, but the incentive to succeed remains, and it is not the first time that the Branch had to adapt to a changing situation.
2000 to 2009
The first decade of the new century remained a very active time for the Branch. In addition to the regular Branch meetings the annual Clinical Symposium, Infection and Immunity Forum and workshops were held each year. There were 75 regular monthly Branch meetings in the decade from 2000 through 2009. Meetings were regularly held on the fourth Monday of every month except July, August and November at Alumni Hall of Thomas Jefferson University on Locust Street. Because the annual clinical symposium was held each year in November, it replaced a scheduled meeting for that month.
Before 2000, the Branch newsletters were printed and mailed to each member. Starting in 2000, newsletters were published electronically and emailed to members. Starting in 2009, a printed newsletter was discontinued, and the Branch website became the main vehicle for communicating with members. In 2006, the last Distinguished Branch Member Lectureship was held, and in 2007, the last routine hands-on workshop was held.
In May 2009, the ASM General Meeting was held in Philadelphia for the tenth time. This was significant, since the last time the Branch was host to a General Meeting was in 1972, and Branch members wanted to do everything possible to make this meeting a success. A day prior to the official opening of the General Meeting, the Milestones in Microbiology plaque dedication ceremony was held on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. This program is designed to recognize sites of importance to the history of microbiology. Two sites had previously been recognized. The Laboratory of Hygiene of the University of Pennsylvania was the third site to receive this designation. On Friday 15 May 2009, a dedication ceremony was held to unveil a plague commemorating the site of the former Laboratory of Hygiene. James Poupard moderated the ceremony and discussed the significance of the Laboratory to the Branch, since the Branch was formed at a meeting in David Bergey’s office, which was located on the second floor of the Laboratory. ASM President, Alison O’Brien, gave a brief talk welcoming the guests and explaining the Milestones Program. Arthur Rubenstein, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, spoke on the history of the building and its significance to the University. William B. Whitman, representing the Bergey Trust, discussed David Bergey and his continuing influence on microbiology. The meeting was attended by Branch members, University of Pennsylvania and ASM staff, ASM Archive chair, Patricia Charache, and other ASM Archive Committee members. A reception, jointly sponsored by the Bergey Trust and the ASM, followed the official plaque presentation. Photographs from the Branch Archives were displayed at the reception. During the reception, various groups from several disciplines participated in lively discussions on the history of microbiology at the University and in Philadelphia.
2010 to 2020
In addition to the routine Branch activities described previously, several events and factors shaped the Branch during this period. The most significant change was the completion of a switch from using a printed or an electronic newsletter to communicate with Branch members to relying completely on the Branch website as our main source of communication. The website evolved over the decade, mainly through the efforts of Irv Nachamkin at the University of Pennsylvania who led and coordinated continuous improvements as the decade progressed.
The previous decade ended with the need to cancel some long-standing projects due to decreased active membership. As the decade started, the need to attract new active members was addressed. The symposia, workshops, forums, special seminars and social events, all require active members to be successful. The Branch had to decide on a way forward by either recruiting new members or curtailing some activities. One successful solution was to energize the Student Chapter and encourage their participation in Branch activities. The Student Chapter increased their responsibility for organizing the Annual Infection & Immunity Forum. Additionally, they took on the responsibility to organize one of the regular monthly meetings each year. The Student Chapter was also successful in increasing the number of graduate and post-doctoral students into active Branch participation. Another initiative of note was related to the activities of the Branch Education Committee. This committee has been successful in serving the needs of teachers at all levels in the Philadelphia area, by providing material to stimulate interest in microbiology and by creating a sense of community among biology-oriented teachers in the Philadelphia area. In addition, the Education Committee initiated a community outreach program designed to stimulate appreciation of microbiology in the general community. The focus and success of this committee was to get young students interested in microbiology.
Another positive factor for the Branch was the presence of the Philadelphia Universities and Medical Schools, along with their related graduate and undergraduate programs. These academic and medical connections continue to represent a major source of a strong microbiology presence in Philadelphia and a source of new Branch active members. Taken as a group, the presence of these prestigious institutions, along with their faculty, graduate and undergraduate programs, account for the most significant single contribution to the current microbiology community in Philadelphia as well as being the source for the next generation to maintain our Branch. Additionally, the hospitals associated with these institutions as well as the many area community hospitals are a source of
Branch participants with a focus on Clinical Microbiology. All these factors played a role in shaping the Branch and providing new talent during the decade leading to our 100th anniversary year in 2020.
Significant Events 2010-2019
In March of 2010, a special Branch event was held at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to celebrate the publication of a new book by long time Branch member James A. Poupard entitled- A History of Microbiology in Philadelphia: 1880 to 2010, Including a Detailed History of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the ASM. The event consisted of a lecture by Poupard as well as a book signing and special reception and dinner at this historic Philadelphia institution.
In October 2013, the regular monthly meetings were moved to the Pearlman Building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. However, it was decided to return the regular meetings to the Thomas Jefferson University campus in 2016 due to traffic, parking and access to public transportation issues with the Penn location.
In September 2014, a special meeting was held to recognize the completion of transferring the Branch Archives to the Thomas Jefferson University Archives and Special collection located in the Scott Memorial Library. Some background information is useful in understanding the importance of this event. Almost 100 years of material on the Branch had accumulated over the years. Harry Morton, a real-life “pack rat” had collected the early history material in various locations and turned this material over to James Poupard upon his death. Starting in 2006, Poupard started to assemble all of the Branch collected material in one location (what used to be his garage) and began sorting out the significant material to write his book on Philadelphia Microbiology and the Branch History. Upon publication of the book, Poupard started to search for a permanent home for this material. Several sites were considered. In 2014, after discussions with Thomas Jefferson University archivist, Michael Angelo, the branch officially turned over the Branch Archives to a permanent home in the Thomas Jefferson University Archives and Special Collections located in the Scott Memorial Library, 1020 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA. The Jefferson archive staff also agreed to archive the Branch website once a year to be available on a permanent archived website along with all the Jefferson sources. Therefore, the Branch material is now open to the public and is secure for posterity! The Branch celebrated this event with a special Branch History meeting in September 2014 to announce the new Archives location. The meeting also served as an opportunity to introduce members to the archives collection.
In September 2016, the Branch held a special meeting to celebrate Branch members who were ASM members for 40 years or more as well as to recognize our past presidents. The meeting consisted of history and current topics in microbiology and education by both Branch and Student Chapter Members.
2020 One Hundred Years and Beyond
All factors indicate that the strong foundation that made Philadelphia a center of microbiology expertise in the twentieth century will continue to strengthen as the new century unfolds. It seems apparent that, for the discipline of microbiology to remain a key player in the new century, and for the Philadelphia microbiology community to grow, microbiologists with relatively new subspecialties relating to environmental studies, new energy sources, the microbiome as well as public health and homeland security, will be incorporated into the Philadelphia microbiology community. The Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the ASM, which essentially helped to define microbiology in the Philadelphia area for the last 100 years, will take steps to continue to stimulate interest in this important field and will continue to establish a sense of a community in order for microbiology research and expertise to thrive in the Philadelphia area. In 2020, as the Branch celebrates its 100th year, there is a great sentiment toward celebrating our past and plunging ahead for many years in the future.