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ACS Comments

November 27, 2006
Volume 84, Number 48
p. 36

Landmarks Program

Diane Grob Schmidt, Director, District II

The American Chemical Society uses many avenues to convey to the public the contributions of chemistry to modern life. One of the best paths to accomplish this task is the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program, which began in 1992. Among the many goals of the Landmarks Program, none is more important than celebrating how chemistry affects everyday life, from the plastics used in homes and cars, to synthetic yarns in clothing, to the many medical miracles that have improved health.

The more than 50 landmarks designated to date cover a wide spectrum of chemical achievements. Some of the landmarks have focused on research advances in the chemical sciences, from Joseph Priestley's discovery of oxygen to Neil Bartlett's research proving that noble gases are not inert. Many other landmarks stress discoveries and developments that are of more direct benefit to society.

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Among the many goals of the Landmarks Program, none is more important than celebrating how chemistry affects everyday life.

The latter emphasis accords with the mission of the program as adopted by the National Historic Chemical Landmarks Committee: "To enhance the public's recognition and appreciation of the contributions of the chemical sciences and chemical engineering to modern life."

Many designations provide evidence of this focus. For example, the most recent landmark ceremony took place on Oct. 25 in Cincinnati with the designation of the development of Tide laundry detergent by Procter & Gamble (C&EN, Nov. 20, page 92). The first heavy-duty synthetic detergent, Tide washed clothes cleaner and brighter in all types of water.

Tide was a significant improvement on traditional soaps, which in hard water turned whites gray, dulled colors, and left a scum in the washbasin. Similarly, ACS conferred a landmark designation earlier this year for the development of Rumford baking powder, a product that made baking breads easier, quicker, and more reliable (C&EN, July 10, page 74).

The Landmarks Program has also pioneered in recognizing the accomplishments of minority chemists, such as the work of Percy Julian in synthesizing physostigmine for the treatment of glaucoma and of George Washington Carver who, though born a slave, worked hard to gain an education and eventually became the "Peanut Man," the discoverer of myriad uses for the lowly legume.

National Historic Chemical Landmarks earmarked for 2007 continue to echo this theme. Among the landmarks to be celebrated will be the 1930 invention of Scotch transparent tape—the world's first waterproof, transparent adhesive tape, which revolutionized home repairs.

Another new landmark will commemorate the origins of the U.S. chemical enterprise at colonial Jamestown, Va., especially as it was characterized by the search for and application of native resources to European metallurgy, pharmacology, and perfumery. The year 2007 is a propitious time to be recognizing the accomplishments at Jamestown because it is the 400th anniversary of the founding of the colony.

In June 2007 in Columbus, Ohio, Chemical Abstracts Service will be designated as a landmark as part of the celebration of its 100th anniversary. CAS is the premier secondary scientific information service. The CAS Registry database remains the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of substance information. In recent decades, CAS has pioneered use of the Internet with such innovative search tools as SciFinder, STN, and CAS Mobile.

From time to time, ACS has recognized International Historic Chemical Landmarks. To merit consideration, the nominated discovery, innovation, or invention must have some U.S. link or significance, and nominations must be made by ACS members residing abroad. I have already mentioned two international landmarks, the discovery of oxygen by Priestley at Bowood House, in Wiltshire, U.K., and the work of Bartlett at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.

In keeping with the volunteerism that marks ACS and with the society's organization at the local level, all landmark nominations must be put forward by a local section, a technical division, or an ACS committee. Nominations are vetted by a 15-member committee of chemists, chemical engineers, and historians of science. The final decision on conferring a landmark rests with the Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations, an ACS Board committee.

All nominations must meet three criteria: A National Historic Chemical Landmark must clearly represent a seminal achievement in the history of chemistry, the achievement must have occurred at least 25 years prior to its nomination, and the achievement must evidence a significant impact and benefit to society and the chemical profession. Landmark achievements may be discoveries, bodies of work, resources, advances, significant sites of accomplishment and discovery, or artifacts, but are not limited to these categories.

For a complete listing of all landmarks and for a description of the program and how to make a nomination, including nomination forms, please visit the National Historic Chemical Landmarks website at chemistry.org/landmarks.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.