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This issue of Biopolymers celebrates the scientific contributions of Elkan Rogers Blout, who died on December 20, 2006 at the age of 87. He was a Founding Editor, along with Murray Goodman and Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir, of Biopolymers in 1963.
As coeditors of this Memorial Issue, we are among those who were privileged to work in Elkan Blout’s research laboratory at Harvard Medical School, which was active for nearly 30 years beginning in the early 1960s. To us, Elkan was both our scientific supervisor and our mentor. He had a profound influence on our professional lives, and we are grateful for his wisdom, warmth, scientific insight, and sound advice. When he joined Harvard, Elkan Blout had already made landmark contributions as a scientist at Polaroid in creation of the color developing process for the company’s instant film. And later, he influenced the future of the Harvard School of Public Health as its Dean from 1978 to 1989, he had a major impact at the Federal Drug Administration during the 1990s as assistant to David Kessler, and served the National Academy of Science for many years as its Treasurer. Throughout all phases of his life, Elkan was a scientific ambassador to the world, befriending and assisting scientists from all over the globe. Thus, his career encompassed many different chapters, and in each case, he used his talents of logic, persuasion, clear vision, financial acumen, and diplomacy to support the most rigorous science.
In light of this profound and multifaceted career, it is all the more remarkable that Elkan Blout’s scientific contributions stand equally high. As indicated by his publication list, included in this issue, Elkan Blout made seminal contributions to the relationship between amino acid sequence and preferred secondary structures of polypeptides, developed and applied many biophysical methods to study polypeptide conformation, and elucidated fundamental aspects of collagen structure. He was a leader in the use of cyclic peptides as models for bioactive peptides and polypeptide structural features, and demonstrated the power of nuclear magnetic resonance for peptide and protein structural study well ahead of the curve in this field of current importance.
For this honorary issue, we have gathered a collage of papers from past trainees and coworkers who benefited directly from time spent at the knee of Elkan the scientist, as well as papers from the next generation who found their science impacted strongly by his influence, and from major figures in the international community who enjoyed friendships and scientific exchange with Elkan Blout. The papers are organized to reflect this breadth. The issue begins with a remembrance from Lubert Stryer who worked with Elkan Blout at the earliest time of Elkan’s research presence at Harvard, while his Polaroid position was his “day job.” Papers follow from Elizabeth Simons, Barbara Brodsky, Abraham Parola, Charles Deber, Vincent Madison, Lila Gierasch, Bonnie Wallace, and Maria Bednarek, all of whom were members of the Blout lab at Harvard, and from Julie Glowacki, who collaborated with Elkan. The papers amply reflect the influence of Elkan’s science on their research paths. Further papers exemplify the “next generation”: David Golan worked with the late Will Veatch, who was a graduate student with Elkan Blout, and Patricia Clark worked with Lila Gierasch, also a past Blout graduate student. Juliette Lecomte and Ronald Raines both identify scientific ties that link them to Elkan’s work. Among authors in the final set of papers in this issue, Tatiana Ovchinnikova, Claudio Toniolo, Isabella Karle, Harold Scheraga, and Jean-Marie Lehn were close colleagues and friends of Elkan’s and enjoyed scientific exchange that has enriched their work.
Elkan Blout was presented with the National Medal of Science by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 with the citation: “For his pioneering studies of protein conformation and devotion to the scientific enterprise of this Nation.” We can think of no more succinct and appropriate summary of the truly impressive gifts Elkan Blout bestowed on the scientific community. It is with great fondness and appreciation for his presence in our lives that we present this issue of Biopolymers in honor of his scientific legacy.