The annual Beak-Pines Organic Area Allerton Conference is held at beautiful Allerton Park, an English-style estate located approximately 20 miles southwest of Champaign. At this conference one student from each organic chemistry research group presents his/her work in the old library of the Robert Allerton House. Two more students from each group present their work in the form of a poster. Lunch is enjoyed in the grand dining hall, and after lunch free time is used to wander through the more than 5,000 acres of forest and prairie along the Sangamon River. The park features formal English gardens and over 100 outdoor sculptures. At the end of the day, the Seemon Pines award is given to the most outstanding presentation.
On October 17, 1987 the first Organic Area Allerton Conference was held at the Robert Allerton House in Monticello, Illinois. The intent of the conference was to provide students with an opportunity to present their work in the poster and lecture formats and informal discussions of scientific meetings, to facilitate communication about ongoing work between research groups and to give students organizational and leadership experience. The Organic Area Allerton Conference has been held each year since the first meeting.
Peter Beak developed the idea for the conference in 1986 and obtained funding for the first conference from the Monsanto Company. On May 26, 1987, Merck & Co. awarded Seemon H. Pines (PhD ’51 with N. J. Leonard) the Directors’ Scientific Award for his outstanding contributions. Pines contacted the Chemistry Department to ask how this gift might be used. The organic chemistry faculty, which included Beak, Broka, Schuster, Coates, Curtin, Denmark, Rinehart, Pirkle, Katzenellenbogen, P. Shapley, and Zimmerman, developed three proposals, one of which was to provide continuing support for the Allerton Conference. Pleased by this option, Pines donated the $50,000 award for support of the conference. In subsequent years, the conference has been supported by income from the Pines gift and by supplements from unrestricted organic division and faculty funds and the Obiter Company. In 2010 Peter and Sandra Beak began donations, which now total $150,000 for support of the Beak-Pines Organic Area Allerton Conference.
The conference has been successful because of the initiative and leadership of graduate students. They chair and organize the conference, give the presentations, participate in the discussions and provide guidance to their successors. The conference is one of the academic high points of the year and is clearly fulfilling its initial purpose. It is hoped that a fund of sufficient size will be established to insure endowed support for the conference in perpetuity.