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October 21, 2002
Volume 80, Number 42
CENEAR 80 42 pp. 50-52
ISSN 0009-2347

Events laud a 'cradle of chemistry research' and honor the mother of industrial health in the U.S.





CELEBRATION McClelland presented Rauchfuss with the plaque (top) commemorating Noyes Laboratory (bottom).

Last month, the American Chemical Society designated two National Historic Chemical Landmarks in Illinois. The first landmark, designated on Sept. 14, celebrated 100 years of chemistry at Noyes Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The second, one week later, celebrated the accomplishments of Alice Hamilton and her contributions to public health. That landmark ceremony was held at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Both designations were the culmination of two-day symposia put on by the institutions, and both attracted large numbers of attendees.

The society started the landmarks program in 1992 to commemorate important events in the history of chemistry and to heighten public awareness of the role chemistry has played in world history. The highlight of the landmark designations consists of the presentation of a plaque by an ACS officer--usually either the president or the chair of the board--to an official of the institution being honored. Thus far, the society has presented 44 plaques in the U.S. and abroad.

NOYES LABORATORY. "In terms of sheer numbers of degrees and of leaders it has produced, the breadth and depth of their discoveries and accomplishments, and the interdisciplinary character of its education, Noyes Laboratory is unique," said Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, author of "Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World" (C&EN, Jan. 21, 2002, page 46) and "Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries." McGrayne spoke to approximately 100 people assembled at the Noyes Laboratory Quad about the history of the building and those who have worked in it.

Much of the work to get the site designated a landmark was done by Vera V. Mainz of the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Illinois and chair of the ACS East Central Illinois Section.

"Science is at the root of civilization," said ACS Board Chair Nina I. McClelland, who made introductory remarks before the plaque presentation. "Sometimes there are places in which the science has been so brilliant, the work so innovative, the tradition of dispassionate inquiry so long established that we honor not just those scientists, but the very building that housed them."

McClelland then presented the plaque to Thomas Rauchfuss, director of the School of Chemical Sciences at Illinois. The plaque reads:

"Noyes Laboratory occupies a central place in the development of chemical sciences in the United States. Four departments of national and international stature--Chemistry, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, and the Illinois State Water Survey--were at one time simultaneously located within its walls. Generations of scientists and engineers trained here under the leadership of renowned chemists such as William A. Noyes and Roger Adams. Chemical sciences in the United States have been immeasurably strengthened by the important and continuing interdisciplinary research conducted by Noyes Laboratory Scientists."

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, established a department of chemistry in 1867, the same year the school was founded. Eleven years later, the department of chemistry became the first on campus to move into a building of its own, a facility it soon outgrew. In 1901, Arthur W. Palmer, then department head, persuaded the Illinois State Legislature to build a grand laboratory, which opened the following year as the New Chemical Laboratory.

Rapid growth dictated the need for another expansion within 10 years, and Palmer's successor as department head, William A. Noyes, argued successfully for an addition to the laboratory, which by then housed the largest chemistry department in the U.S. The addition, which more than doubled the size of the building, was completed in 1916. In 1939, the chemistry department honored Noyes's service by naming the building Noyes Laboratory.

The roster of scientists who studied or taught at Noyes Lab reads like a who's who of American chemistry. It includes 10 Nobel Prize winners; 23 ACS presidents; and 12 winners of the Priestley Medal, the highest honor bestowed by ACS.

Noyes (1857–1941) became head of the chemistry department at Illinois in 1907. Over the next 19 years, he was a professor of organic chemistry and is now remembered for his work on the structure of camphor, the electronic theories of valence, and the valence and nature of nitrogen in nitrogen trichloride. He served for many years as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (1902–17). He was also the founding editor of Chemical Abstracts Index, Chemical Reviews, and ACS Scientific Monographs.

Prominent on the roster of those who made Noyes great is Roger Adams (1889–1971), who chaired the department for nearly 30 years. Under Adams' stewardship, Illinois expanded and became the leading institution training chemists for the chemical industry. His synthetic work as a researcher focused on aromatic compounds. The Adams catalyst, a colloidal platinum oxide, was the standard for hydrogenations. His work on the stereochemistry of substituted biphenyl and biaryl compounds raised important questions about the relationship between steric and electronic effects.

John C. Bailar Jr. (1904–91) started his career at the University of Illinois in 1928 and served for 63 years. While teaching a general chemistry course, he realized that isomerism could exist among inorganic compounds. He went on to train several generations of coordination chemists at Illinois and helped to make the university as well known for inorganic chemistry as it was for organic. Bailar is known as the "father of American coordination chemistry."

St. Elmo Brady (1884–1966), the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry, did his dissertation work at Noyes Laboratory. His dissertation in 1916 was titled "The Divalent Oxygen Atom." He went on to have a distinguished career as a professor at Howard University, located in Washington, D.C.

Herbert S. Gutowsky (1919–2000), who taught at Noyes, made nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy an effective tool in chemical and medical research. In the early days of NMR, he and his students discovered the phenomenon of spin-spin coupling and recognized its utility for the assignment of structure. He also demonstrated that NMR spectroscopy could be used to study exchange processes in chemical systems and to identify and characterize complex compounds.

Carl S. (Speed) Marvel (1894–1988) carried on important research in polymers at Noyes Lab. In 1937, Marvel began to investigate the structure of vinyl polymers and proved that the repeating units in most polymers prepared from polyvinyl chloride are formed with chlorine atoms on alternate carbon atoms (head-to-tail) and not on adjacent carbon atoms (head-to-head). During World War II, he led a group of chemists working on the U.S. government's synthetic rubber program.

William C. Rose (1887–1985) made significant strides in determining human amino acid requirements as a Noyes chemist. He discovered and structurally analyzed threonine and showed that it is not synthesized by the body but must be obtained from the diet. He studied creatine and creatinine metabolism and the nutritive properties of amino acids. He also investigated the role of proteins in metabolism and the metabolic interrelationships among amino acids.

HONORED Hamilton pioneered in the field of industrial medicine. COURTESY OF HULL-HOUSE
ALICE HAMILTON AND HULL-HOUSE. On Sept. 21, at ceremonies at the University of Illinois, Chicago, ACS recognized the work of Alice Hamilton in industrial toxicology--the study of poisonous substances in the workplace. This is especially important given that 2002 is the society's "Year of the Woman," the theme of which is "Diversity in the 21st Century: Advancing Women in Science." The year also marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of ACS's Women Chemists Committee, one of the oldest women's scientific committees.

ACS President Eli M. Pearce presented a plaque to the Hull-House Museum. The text of the plaque reads:

"In 1897, Dr. Alice Hamilton (1869–1970) came to Hull-House, a social settlement founded to address the needs of immigrants living on Chicago's Near West Side. Through living and working in the Hull-House neighborhood, she identified occupational diseases plaguing those who worked in the 'dangerous trades': rubber, dyes, lead, enamelware, copper and mercury production, and explosives and munitions. Collaborating with the U.S. Department of Labor, Hamilton documented the occupational diseases from which these workers suffered. Her reports on the effect of lead on industrial workers, particularly women, established her as a leader in the field of chemical health and safety."

In his remarks preceding the landmark presentation, Pearce noted ACS public opinion research on the millennial generation--that is, those people born since the early '80s. That research indicated that one way we could make chemistry more attractive to young people was to change the image of chemists.

"Alice Hamilton defies the stereotype of the abstract and self-absorbed scientist," Pearce said. "She may have been born into privilege, but throughout her long life, she used her talents and advantages to aid the poor."

He continued: "In this, the great social reformers of the 19th century and the millennials have something in common. Hamilton and her peers joined communities like Hull-House because they felt a strong call to public service--much like today's youth, who are signing up for programs like AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity in record numbers."

Hamilton struggled against the prejudices of her day to obtain an education and achieve professional success. She received a medical degree from the University of Michigan. Later, Hamilton traveled to Germany with her sister, Edith Hamilton, a noted classicist and author of "The Greek Way." Alice enrolled in universities in Munich and Leipzig for a year, but because neither school allowed female students, she had to make herself inconspicuous to male students while attending lectures in bacteriology and pathology.

In 1919, Hamilton was offered a position in industrial medicine at Harvard Medical School. The faculty position came with three stipulations: She could not attend the Faculty Club, she could not get football tickets, and she could not march in the commencement procession. Hamilton was the first woman on the Harvard faculty, and all of her students were men, since the university still did not admit women.

But it was at Hull-House in the first two decades of the 20th century that Hamilton made her greatest mark as the pioneer in the development of industrial medicine, a field previously unknown. At Hull-House, Hamilton treated poor immigrants for diseases often stemming from their jobs, and she established a baby clinic.


UNVEILED Frankie Wood-Black (left) of Phillips Petroleum; Donald J. Wink, professor of chemistry, University of Illinois, Chicago; and Pearce attended the Hull-House landmark ceremony. COURTESY OF JOHN PALMER

During the typhoid fever epidemic of 1902 in Chicago, she made a connection between improper sewage disposal and the role of flies in transmitting the disease; her findings led to reorganization of the Chicago Health Department. She then noted that the health problems of many of the immigrant poor were due to unsafe conditions and noxious chemicals, especially lead dust, to which they were being exposed in the course of their employment. At the time, there were no laws regulating safety at work, and employers routinely fired sick workers and replaced them with new ones.

Hamilton studied the extent of industrial sickness in Illinois, particularly investigating high mortality rates caused by industrial poisoning in the lead and associated enamelware industries, rubber production, painting trades, and explosives. Her research provided insight into the safe handling of chemicals in the workplace, and it led to changes in state laws and ultimately federal industrial safety legislation. In 1934, she wrote "Industrial Toxicology," the first textbook in the field.

Throughout her life, Hamilton was interested in social issues, as demonstrated by her decision to live at Hull-House. In her 1943 autobiography, "Dangerous Trades," Hamilton noted what Hull-House taught her: "Life in a settlement does several things to you. Among others, it teaches you that education and culture have little to do with real wisdom, the wisdom that comes from life experiences."

Hamilton championed peace, and she traveled to Europe in 1915 to work for the end of World War I. In 1919, she attended the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom meeting in Zurich. Even after she retired, Hamilton remained an activist, campaigning against McCarthyism, opposing the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and crusading against the Vietnam War until her death in 1970 at the age of 101.

ACS is planning to designate one more National Historic Chemical Landmark this year. In December, it will honor the Department of Agriculture's Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif., for its work on frozen foods.

More information on the landmarks program is available on the Web at


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Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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