History of AES

by David Garfin, Past AES President & Larry Grossman, AES Treasurer*

The roots of the AES Electrophoresis Society began in 1972, when 80 invited biochemists, chemists, and chemical engineers from around the world who were working on proteins and nucleic acids began a series of meetings to discuss electrophoretic methods. By that time, the use of polyacrylamide and agarose gels had largely replaced starch, paper, and cellulose acetate as supports for electrophoresis and isoelectric focusing. Thus the attendees at that first meeting whimsically called themselves “The Society of the Blue Fingers” in reference to the use of dyes for detection of gel-separated molecules. At one of these meetings in 1978 a group proposed establishment of a society dedicated to electrophoretic separations. There was enough interest that a society was formed in 1979 with about 100 members. Bylaws and a constitution were written in 1980 and the first meeting of the newly formed Electrophoresis Society was held in 1981. During the 1980s individual national electrophoresis societies were formed and an international congress of electrophoresis societies was established. The AES Electrophoresis Society (AES), which became a separate entity, was incorporated in South Carolina in 1988.

The fields of biochemistry and molecular biology changed drastically with the emergence of genomics and proteomics. In the 1980s and 1990s, genomics and proteomics societies sprang up that drew their members from those traditionally belonging to AES. Proteomics, in particular, had a very negative impact on AES. For a while scientists engaged in proteomics continued to attend AES meetings and to be quite positive about those sessions. Eventually, though, these people migrated to their own specialized organizations. As a consequence, many international electrophoresis societies converted to proteomics societies with a few splitting into electrophoresis and proteomics branches. AES, on the other hand, opted to buck the trend and to maintain its focus on separations technologies. Today AES has 100 members. It is one of a handful of thriving electrophoresis societies worldwide. In 2000 an alliance was formed between AES and American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) whereby AES holds its annual meetings as topical sessions within the (much) larger annual meetings of AIChE. The first such topical session was held in 2001. This came at a propitious time when a segment of chemical engineering was developing a more biological focus. Its success cemented the alliance into the present time, with AES continuing to put together well-attended and well-received sessions for AIChE. These sessions attract a good mixture of chemical engineers and biochemists working on the forefront of advanced separations platforms and applications.

In the early 2010s, AES made overt efforts to reach out to analytical chemists and biochemists, noting that the group had become engineer-heavy from the overall positive interactions with AIChE. One result of this push was to join the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS), a forty year old organization of societies which sponsored a yearly meeting (FACSS until 2012, now SciX Conference) that moved to various locations throughout North America. AES is now quite active in both AIChE and SciX each fall.

*updated 2013, Mark A. Hayes, President Elect 2014-15