Noyes Laboratory at the University of Illinois
Dedicated September 14, 2002, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the 100th anniversary ofthe opening of Noyes Laboratory.
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 Department of Chemistry
- Production of Fine Chemicals at Illinois during WWI
- The Illinois State Water Survey
- Chemists from the University of Illinois Department of Chemistry
- Other Notables from the University of Illinois Department of Chemistry
- Further Reading
- Landmark Designation and Acknowledgments
- Cite this Page
Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) 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 ten years, and Palmer’s successor as Head of Department, William A. Noyes, argued successfully for an addition to the laboratory, which by then housed the largest chemistry department in the United States. The addition, which more than doubled the size of the building, was completed in 1916. In 1939 the chemistry building was dedicated to Noyes.
The principal occupant of Noyes Laboratory has been the Department of Chemistry. But Noyes Laboratory incorporated a groundbreaking design that provided excellent research and teaching facilities for hundreds of faculty and thousands of students. As such, Noyes also housed at various times the departments of Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Bacteriology, and the Illinois State Water Survey.
The roster of scientists who studied or taught at Noyes Laboratory reads like a who’s who of American chemistry. It includes ten Nobel Prize winners; twenty-three presidents of the American Chemical Society; and twelve winners of the Priestley Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Chemical Society. St. Elmo Brady, the first African American to receive a doctoral degree in chemistry did his research at Noyes Laboratory.
But the mere naming of prominent scientists who have been associated with Noyes Laboratory through its history does not detail the important research that has taken place within its walls. Such a list would include the development of NMR spectroscopy as a tool for chemists by Herbert Gutowsky, the elucidation of the theory of electron transfer by Rudolph Marcus, the development of Fourier-transform microwave spectrometry by Willis Flygare, advances in the field of chemical information by Marion Sparks, the pioneering research in coordination chemistry in the United States by John C. Bailar Jr., the discovery of the amino acid threonine by William C. Rose and its synthesis by Herbert Carter, and the work of Roger Adams on identifying the active ingredients in marijuana. Other advances that occurred at Noyes include the discovery of the synthetic sweetener cyclamate by Ludwig Audrieth and Michael Sveda, the discovery of lipoic acid by Irwin Gunsulas, the invention of high-intensity X-ray tubes by George Clark, and the seminal studies on air pollution by Henry Fraser Johnstone. The manufacture of fine chemicals during World War I took place at Noyes after the traditional source, Germany, cut supplies. From that project, two important series originated at Noyes Laboratory: Organic Syntheses, founded in 1921 and Organic Reactions, founded in 1942, both initiated by Roger Adams.
Noyes Laboratory Building Details
The west half of Noyes Laboratory, built in 1901-1902, resembled the letter “E” in shape. Its dimensions were 230 feet along the front and 116 feet along the wings. This original part of Noyes Laboratory contained 77,884 square feet of usable space and cost slightly less than the $100,000 the Illinois legislature appropriated. The east half of Noyes Laboratory was completed in 1915-1916; it gave the entire building the shape of a hollow square, 231 feet by 202 feet, with 164,280 square feet of working space. The east wing added 86,396 square feet of additional space and cost $250,000, about two and one-half times the cost of the original building.
Production of Fine Chemicals at Illinois during WWI
The traditional source of fine chemicals—Germany—dried up with America’s entry into World War I. As a result, the Chemistry Department at Illinois established an organic chemical manufacturing unit, initially under the direction of Professor Clarence Derick. Originally it was a summer project for producing chemicals for classroom use, but Roger Adams turned it into a program for producing organic chemicals for war and industrial use as well.
Carl Marvel, a graduate student at the time, spent most of 1917 and 1918 working on the project, and graduate students continued the tradition over summers as a way to earn money. While some synthetic organic chemicals had been produced in the United States before the war, the chemists at Illinois filled an important gap that arose when the German source of fine chemicals disappeared. The work at Illinois led to the establishment of Eastman Organic Chemicals.
In the process of making the organic chemicals, Illinois chemists tested and perfected the directions for their syntheses. These recipes were incorporated into a series of volumes giving carefully checked recipes for the synthesis of organic compounds. The publication Organic Syntheses, founded by Roger Adams continues to the present day.
The Illinois State Water Survey
The Illinois State Water Survey began in 1895 as a unit in the Department of Chemistry at Illinois. Its chief function was to test for the presence of waterborne disease, particularly typhoid fever. In its first fifteen months, the survey responded to 1,787 public requests to perform chemical analysis on water samples as part of its responsibility for maintaining the health and safety of public water supplies. The Water Survey’s other missions included addressing methods of water softening, the treatment of sewage and wastewater, and the creation of standards to insure sanitary drinking water. In 1907, the Water Survey occupied laboratories and workrooms in what is now known as Noyes Laboratory.
In 1917, the Water Survey became part of the state Department of Registration and Education. In that year, Illinois established a Board of Natural Resources and Conservation, composed of prominent scientists and others selected by the governor, to guide the activities of the Water Survey. Scientific investigations of the state’s water supply were expanded, and the Water Survey published the first state inventory of municipal ground-water supplies.
During World War II, chemists at the Water Survey worked with Illinois scientists and the federal government on the detection and removal of chemical warfare agents in water supplies. After the war, the Water Survey expanded its meteorological efforts and began to use radar to track severe storms. The U.S. Weather Bureau transferred the state climatologist to the Water Survey.
In 1951, after forty-four years, the Water Survey left Noyes Laboratory and moved into the Water Resources Building. It was in this period that the pressure of population growth induced the Water Survey to seek expanded water resources. Water Survey chemists issued studies addressing reservoir development and new methods of evaluating wells and aquifers. In 1995, the Illinois State Water Survey became a division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Chemists from the University of Illinois
- Roger Adams (1889-1971): “The Chief”
- Ludwig Frederick Audrieth (1907-1967): Synthetic Sweeteners and Statesman
- John Christian Bailar, Jr. (1904-1991): Coordination and Inorganic Chemistry
- St. Elmo Brady (1884-1966): First African American to Receive a Ph.D. in Chemistry
- George Lindenberg Clark (1892-1969): High-intensity X-ray Tubes
- Willis Horney Flygare (1936-1981): Microwave Spectrometry
- Reynold C. Fuson (1895-1979): Teaching Chemistry
- Herbert S. Gutowsky (1919-2000): NMR Spectroscopy
- B. Smith Hopkins (1873-1952): Chemistry of Rare Earths
- Henry Fraser Johnstone (1902-1962): Air Pollution Studies
- Herbert August Laitinen (1915-1991): Analytical Chemistry
- Carl “Speed” Marvel (1894-1988): Synthetic Polymer Chemistry
- William Arthur Noyes (1857-1941): Chemical Publications and NIST
- Arthur William Palmer (1861-1904): The Illinois State Water Survey
- Samuel Wilson Parr (1857-1931): Applied Chemistry
- Charles Coale Price III (1913-2001): Antimalarial Research Program
- Worth H. Rodebush (1887-1959): Physical Chemistry
- William Cumming Rose (1887-1985): Amino Acids
- George Frederick Smith (1891-1976): The Aerosol Can
- Harold Ray Snyder (1910-1994): Organic Chemistry and Antimalarial Research
- Marion Sparks (1872-1929): Chemistry Librarian
Roger Adams (1889-1971): “The Chief”
Roger Adams has a special place in the history of chemistry in the United States. As head of the Department of Chemistry at Illinois for nearly thirty years and through his close contacts with industry, “The Chief” promoted the development of chemistry in the United States and cooperation with industry and government. In addition, Adams trained a generation of chemists, serving as research director for 198 doctoral degree recipients and many more postdoctoral research associates and fellows.
Adams completed his undergraduate and graduate education at Harvard University, receiving his B.A. in 1909 and Ph.D. in 1912. He then spent a year in Germany studying under the leading experts in synthetic organic chemistry and the chemistry of natural products. In 1913 Adams returned to Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow, with the apparent intention to pursue a career in research, which at that time meant working in industry. But in 1914, a sudden vacancy led to his appointment as an instructor in organic chemistry at Harvard. In 1916 he accepted an offer from William Noyes of an assistant professorship at Illinois. He stayed for fifty-six years. He was promoted to professor in 1919, and upon Noyes’ retirement in 1926 he became department head. Under Noyes’ leadership Illinois became the foremost school of chemistry in the United States. Under Adams’ stewardship, Illinois expanded and became the leading institution training chemists for the chemical industry.
Adams helped to break down the distinction between the worlds of academy and industry. Before World War I, two separate traditions existed in chemistry: the world of “pure” science competed with that of applied, technological science. At Illinois, the first tradition was represented by Noyes, the second by Samuel Parr. In the 1920s this sharp distinction began to break down, in part because of the demand for research chemists in industry. Industry not only demanded chemists; it demanded chemists with Ph.D.’s. For chemists, a career in industry became attractive. Adams became head of the department at Illinois at the precise time these trends were occurring, and he helped smooth the merging of the academic and industrial worlds.
During World War I, Adams transformed a summer project to produce chemicals for classroom use into a pilot program for the production of organic chemicals for war and industrial use, to replace German sources no longer available. The program continued after the war as Organic Chemical Manufactures, with bulletins issued on synthetic methods developed at Illinois. In 1921 this became the academic monograph series Organic Syntheses, which Adams edited, and in 1942 he helped found Organic Reactions.
The demand for industrial chemists in the 1920s led to a rapid expansion of the department of chemistry and to changes in the curriculum. Emphasis was placed on learning the fundamentals of chemistry, with the assumption that specific areas were best learned in industrial laboratories. A Ph.D. program in chemical engineering was instituted. Under Adams, academic training became more sensitive to the needs of industry, and industrial training became more scientific. As Adams-trained students assumed prominent positions in industry, the demand for Illinois chemists increased. One of Adams’ most famous students was Wallace Carothers who invented nylon at DuPont.
Adams served as a director of the American Chemical Society for two separate terms and as president in 1935. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1929. From 1941 to 1946 he served on the National Defense Research Committee, responsible for organizing war research in chemistry and chemical engineering. From 1954 to 1960, he was a member of the board of directors of the National Science Foundation.
Adams contributed many recipes to Organic Syntheses and Organic Reactions over his long career. His synthetic work as a researcher focused on aromatic compounds, important in the dye industry. The “Adams Catalyst,” a colloidal platinum oxide, became standard for hydrogenations. In the 1920s and 1930s, Adams investigated the stereochemistry of substituted biphenyl and biaryl compounds, which can be resolved into optical isomers. This research raised questions about the relationship between steric and electronic effects, an issue of concern among physical organic chemists. Adams’ best-known work on natural products is his research on marijuana alkaloids, which he undertook in the late 1930s at the behest of the Narcotics Bureau. He isolated and synthesized tetrahydrocannabinol and several of its analogues.
Adams received ten honorary degrees, twenty-four medals and awards from American and foreign scientific societies, and honorary membership in nine chemical societies. His historical importance can probably best be measured by the number of his students who assumed leading roles in the university and in industry. His contributions to the University of Illinois were acknowledged by the naming of the “east chemistry” building in his honor, Roger Adams Laboratory, in 1972.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Roger Adams (1889-1971)
Ludwig Frederick Audrieth (1907-1967): Synthetic Sweeteners and Statesman
Born in Vienna, Ludwig Audrieth became an American citizen as a child and was educated at Colgate University and Cornell University. He received a Ph.D. from the latter in 1926 and remained two more years as a fellow, completing both his doctoral and post-doctoral studies under A. W. Browne. At this time, Audrieth began to study nitrogen chemistry and reactions in non-aqueous solvents. He joined the Illinois faculty in 1928, where he began studying the chemistry of nitrogen-phosphorus compounds and of sulfamic acid, sulfamide, and their derivatives. This research led in 1939 to the discovery with Michael Sveda of the artificial sweetener sodium cyclamate. Sucaryl, the sodium salt of cyclohexylsulfamic acid, went on the market in 1950 as a non-caloric sweetener.
In the 1950s Audrieth developed methods still used for the production of hydrazine, which he recognized in 1938 as potentially valuable for use in high-energy fuels. He investigated the chemistry of rocket fuels, eventually holding fifteen patents dealing with rocket propellants and explosives. He was an innovator in the chemistry of non-aqueous solvents.
Audrieth was one of the founders of the Inorganic Syntheses series. He was a prolific contributor to it, and he served as a member of its Board of Editors from 1934 to 1967. He was co-author with B. A. Ogg of The Chemistry of Hydrazine in 1950 and with Jacob Kleinberg of Non-Aqueous Solvents: Applications as Media for Chemical Reactions in 1953.
Audrieth went on leave from Illinois in 1959 to serve his adopted country as scientific attaché in the American Embassy in Bonn, Germany. In 1963 Audrieth became a visiting professor of science affairs at the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of State in Washington, D.C.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Ludwig Frederick Audrieth (1907-1967)
John Christian Bailar, Jr. (1904-1991): Coordination and Inorganic Chemistry
Born in Golden, Colo., and educated at the universities of Colorado and Michigan, John Bailar became an instructor at Illinois in 1928. It was the start of a sixty-three year career in the Department of Chemistry. As a graduate student he became interested in organic isomerism, but while teaching a general chemistry course he realized that isomerism, the occurrence of different compounds with the same chemical composition, could also exist among inorganic compounds.
Bailar went on to train several generations of coordination chemists, helping to make Illinois as well known for inorganic chemistry as it was for organic. Ninety doctoral candidates, thirty-eight postdoctoral fellows, and numerous master’s and bachelor’s degree candidates studied under Bailar.
The growth of inorganic chemistry in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as “the renaissance of inorganic chemistry,” owed much to Bailar’s pioneering work. As such, Bailar was responsible as well for the growing interest in coordination chemistry, and he came to be known as the “father of American coordination chemistry.”
Bailar was best known for his work on the stereochemistry of coordination compounds. In 1934, along with a senior undergraduate, Robert W. Auten, Bailar discovered an inorganic counterpart of the well-known organic Walden inversion reaction. This work was the first installment in a 37-part series called “The Stereochemistry of Complex Compounds,” issued from 1934-1985. In 1959 Bailar and future Nobel laureate Elias J. Corey wrote a classic article on octahedral complexes that pioneered the application of conformational analysis to coordination compounds.
Bailar contributed substantially to the development of heat-resistant inorganic polymers and to the field of homogeneous catalysis. He also studied the role of coordination compounds in electrochemical processes. His investigations included their stability in solution and their function in the electrodeposition of metals.
Bailar was involved in founding the monograph Inorganic Syntheses in 1939. In 1957 he helped establish the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry, serving as its first chairman. His efforts were rewarded when in 1962 the journal Inorganic Chemistry began publication. Bailar won the Priestley Medal in 1964 and served as President of the American Chemical Society in 1959.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: John Christian Bailar, Jr. (1904-1991)
St. Elmo Brady (1884-1966): First African American to Receive a Ph.D. in Chemistry
In 1916 St. Elmo Brady became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, although blacks had obtained doctoral degrees in physics and biology in the nineteenth century. Brady was born on December 22, 1884, in Louisville, Ky. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1908, Brady taught at the Tuskegee Institute. In 1912, he was offered a graduate scholarship by the University of Illinois. Years later, Brady told his students that when he entered graduate school, “they began with 20 whites and one other and ended in 1916 with six whites and one other.”
Brady completed a M.S. in chemistry in 1914 and carried out his Ph.D. thesis work at Noyes Laboratory under the direction of Professor Clarence Derick, writing a dissertation in 1916 titled “The Divalent Oxygen Atom.” While at Illinois, Brady became the first African American admitted to Phi Lambda Upsilon, the chemistry honor society. In November 1916, The Crisis, the monthly magazine of the NAACP, selected Brady as its “Man of the Month.”
After completing his graduate studies, Brady taught at Tuskegee from 1916 to 1920. Because of a lack of research facilities, Brady accepted a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1927 he moved to Fisk University and after his retirement from Fisk in 1952, he taught at Tougaloo College. Brady left an impressive teaching legacy, including the establishment of strong undergraduate and graduate programs in chemistry at the historically black colleges and universities where he taught.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: St. Elmo Brady (1884-1966)
George Lindenberg Clark (1892-1969): High-intensity X-ray Tubes
George Clark received his Ph.D. in 1918 from the University of Chicago, where he studied with William D. Harkins. Clark held several academic positions, most notably as an assistant professor of applied chemical research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1927 he joined the faculty of Illinois in its analytical chemistry division, where his students knew him as “G. L.”
Clark was the leading exponent of the application of X-ray analyses to a wide variety of materials, including metals and minerals, natural and synthetic fibers, natural and synthetic rubber, clays, carbon black, storage battery plates, corks, and waxes. He was a pathfinder in recognizing the connection between instrumentation and analysis, and he frequently introduced newly developed instrumental methods into the research community.
Clark was an expert in the application of X-rays in science and industry. In 1945 he developed an X-ray tube that could withstand the heat generated by up to 50,000 volts of electricity. Clark’s new tube meant that X-ray pictures could be taken in seconds rather than minutes, giving growth to the medical uses of X-rays.
Clark successfully characterized the macromolecules found in the rubber plant, determining their molecular weight, an issue that had intrigued botanists for years. He also discovered that rubber crystallizes when it is stretched, opening up a new field of X-ray studies.
In 1952 the first consolidated X-ray facility in the United States was dedicated at Illinois. A plaque acknowledged Clark’s twenty-five years of applied X-ray research. In 2000 the X-ray facility was rededicated as the G. L. Clark X-ray Laboratory.
Willis Horney Flygare (1936-1981): Microwave Spectrometry
Born and raised in a small Minnesota farming community, Willis Flygare went to the University of California at Berkeley for his graduate work in chemistry, receiving a Ph.D. in 1961 with W. D. Gwinn for his work in microwave spectroscopy. Flygare joined the Illinois chemistry faculty, also in 1961. He developed a new experimental method involving the molecular Zeeman effect, which he used to measure quadrupole moments and magnetic susceptibility anisotropies of many molecules.
By making improvements affecting line widths, Flygare built a microwave spectrograph with unsurpassed resolution and used this spectrometer to determine many spin interaction constants of molecules, which he related to molecular electronic structural properties. Flygare showed for the first time the presence of formamide in interstellar space. He determined the structures of many molecules of chemical interest, and he developed a new and rapid method involving laser light scattering for determining electrophoretic mobility and the diffusion constants of large molecules.
Although Flygare died at the age of 44 from the effects of A.L.S, the impact of his research was broad. His molecular Zeeman studies revealed details of electronic importance in both organic and inorganic chemistry. His electrophoretic mobility work was of great interest to biophysical chemists and his solid-state work gained favorable attention from physicists. His book, Molecular Structure and Dynamics, is a classic in chemical physics. Flygare’s accomplishments in the development of Fourier-transform microwave spectrometry were recognized by election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Reynold C. Fuson (1895-1979): Teaching Chemistry
Reynold Fuson was born in Wakefield, Ill., and received degrees in chemistry from the University of Montana, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota. He held a postdoctoral appointment at Harvard, studying with Professor E. P. Kohler, after which he served briefly as an instructor. He joined the Department of Chemistry at Illinois in 1927. He retired in 1963 after thirty-five years as a distinguished teacher and researcher.
During his teaching career, Fuson supervised 76 undergraduate research students, 15 postdoctoral fellows, and 154 doctoral candidates. Fuson published 285 scientific articles and wrote or co-wrote five textbooks, including The Systematic Identification of Organic Compounds.
Fuson’s research interests were broad and significant and included the enunciation of the principle of vinylogy, elucidation of the conjugate addition of Grignard reagents to unsaturated carbonyls compounds, and the discovery of stable enols and enediols of sterically hindered molecules.
Fuson’s accomplishments were recognized by membership in the National Academy of Sciences and he received the Nichols Medal, the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association Award for College Teaching, and the John R. Kuebler Award of Alpha Chi Sigma. He was a member of the editorial boards of Organic Syntheses and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Herbert S. Gutowsky (1919-2000): NMR Spectroscopy
Herbert Gutowsky’s pioneering work made nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy one of the most effective tools in chemical and medical research. Gutowsky received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1940, and after a four-year interruption for military service, he was awarded a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1946. Gutowsky earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University under George Kistiakowsky and joined the faculty of Illinois in 1948. He became a full professor in 1956. His research interests as a young faculty member included molecular and solid-state structure and infrared and radio frequency spectroscopy, including nuclear magnetic resonance and electron paramagnetic resonance.
Gutowsky was the first chemist to apply the NMR method to chemical research, and his investigations into the principles of NMR and its uses has had a monumental effect on virtually all scientific investigations requiring the analysis of molecular structure. His work led to the development of experimental and theoretical tools for studying the structure and dynamics of molecules in liquids, solids, and gases. In short, Gutowsky’s breakthrough discoveries made NMR one of the most important spectroscopic tools in chemical and biochemical research.
Gutowsky and his students made great advances in the early days of NMR, discovering the phenomenon of spin-spin coupling and recognizing its utility for the assignment of structure. He steadily increased the breadth of studies of the structure and molecular motion of molecules, the origin of chemical shifts in NMR spectra, and the use of NMR to identify complex organic compounds. Gutowsky and his colleagues demonstrated that NMR could be used to study exchange processes in chemical systems and to identify and characterize complex compounds.
Gutowsky became head of the Department of Chemistry at Illinois in 1967, and in 1970 he oversaw the creation of the School of Chemical Sciences, which included the departments of chemistry and chemical engineering. He served as Director of the School of Chemical Sciences from 1970 to 1983. He then returned to teaching and research, moving into a second research career in Fourier-transform microwave spectroscopic studies of small, weakly bonded molecules in the gas phase.
Gutowsky’s many achievements were recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He was also elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Gutowsky received many awards, including two from the American Chemical Society—the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics in 1966 and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry in 1975. He was also awarded the prestigious National Medal of Science in 1977 and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1983.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Herbert S. Gutowsky (1919-2000)
B. Smith Hopkins (1873-1952): Chemistry of Rare Earths
Born in Owosso, Mich., Hopkins began teaching in the Menominee, Mich., public schools in 1897. He received a Ph.D. in 1906 with H. N. Morse at Johns Hopkins University and then held various academic posts before joining the Illinois faculty in 1912. At Illinois, Hopkins worked with Charles Balke, who was conducting a series of researches on beryllium, yttrium, columbium (now called niobium), tantalum, and the rare earths. When Balke left Illinois in 1916, Hopkins carried on this research, specializing more and more in the chemistry of the rare earths. This was the field in which he made his greatest contributions to chemistry.
At that time, separating rare earths from each other was a long and tedious process, depending on repeated recrystallizations of the double magnesium nitrates, the bromates, and other salts. In some cases, thousands of recrystallizations were necessary. In 1926, Hopkins with Leonard Yntema and J. Allen Harris announced the discovery of the long sought element 61, which they named “illinium.” Repeated attempts failed to concentrate this element any further, and with the development of fission reaction, it was determined that element 61 (now known as promethium) was highly radioactive. Most chemists concluded that it did not exist in nature. Hopkins had considered the discovery of illinium the climax of his career, and was bitterly disappointed that his work was not accepted. But his contributions to rare earth chemistry were significant and laid the groundwork for much subsequent research.
Henry Fraser Johnstone (1902-1962): Air Pollution Studies
Henry Johnstone, a native of Georgetown, S.C., graduated from the University of the South at Sewanee, Tenn., in 1923 with a B.S. degree in chemistry. He then enrolled in the State University of Iowa from which he received an M.S. in chemistry in 1925 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1926. Two years later, Johnstone joined the Division of Chemical Engineering at Illinois as a member of the staff of the Engineering Experiment Station on a cooperative investigation with the Utilities Research Commission of Chicago to study stack-gas problems related to atmospheric pollution. He became a member of the faculty in Chemical Engineering in 1935 and head of the division in 1945.
Johnstone achieved international acclaim as a chemical engineer and authority on air pollution. He was technical advisor for the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District, consultant for the Tennessee Valley Authority, scientific advisor for the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, and consultant for the Texas Gulf Sulfur Company. He held more than twenty patents and was the author or co-author of about ninety articles. In 1943 he received the Walker Medal of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
During World War II, Johnstone directed a laboratory at the behest of the National Defense Research Committee to develop new chemical warfare munitions. For this work, Johnstone was awarded the Naval Ordnance Development Award and the President’s Certificate of Merit. He also received the Army Meritorious Service Decoration, the highest award it grants civilians, and the Army Exceptional Service Medal for services as Consultant to the Army Chemical Corps.
Herbert August Laitinen (1915-1991): Analytical Chemistry
Herbert Laitinen joined the faculty of Illinois in 1940, the same year he received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota where he studied under I. M. Kolthoff. For several years, Laitinen taught inorganic and general chemistry; in 1947 he began teaching analytical chemistry. He became head of the analytical chemistry division in 1953.
Laitinen influenced the intellectual content of the analytical chemistry curriculum both at Illinois during his thirty-seven years on the faculty and nationally. In the process, he helped define the discipline as it moved from the analysis of various materials to the principles and methods of electrochemistry, spectroscopy, separations, and instrumentation. In 1960 Laitinen published a classic text in the field, Chemical Analysis, which made graduate instruction rigorous and more complete. His contributions were recognized in 1961 when the American Chemical Society granted him its Award in Analytical Chemistry. In 1986 the ACS noted his devotion to teaching with its Division of Analytical Chemistry Excellence in Teaching Award.
Laitinen made Analytical Chemistry the leading scientific journal in the field while serving as its editor from 1966 to 1979. He published 168 editorials while editor of the journal.
Laitinen had varied research interests. He was a leader in synthetic rubber research during World War II. He also conducted research in electrochemistry, polarography, diffusion, polarization of microelectrodes, environmental science, and surface chemistry.
Carl “Speed” Marvel (1894-1988): Synthetic Polymer Chemistry
Carl Marvel was born on a farm and grew up expecting to be a farmer. He later said his uncle, a high school teacher, urged him to study science "because the next generation of farmers was going to need scientific knowledge to get the most out of their work." Accordingly, Marvel enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1911 and discovered he enjoyed synthesizing organic compounds.
In 1915 Marvel accepted a $250 scholarship to the University of Illinois to study chemistry, although he still planned to return to the family farm. The dean of the graduate school, unimpressed by Marvel’s transcript from Illinois Wesleyan, urged him to take an overload of courses in chemistry so he could catch up. Because of his apparent ability to work late in the laboratory, sleep until the last moment, and still get to breakfast before the dining hall closed at 7:30 a.m., Marvel earned the nickname "Speed," which he used throughout his career, even on official correspondence.
Marvel did his doctoral work under department head William Noyes and then stayed at Illinois, serving on the faculty for more than forty years. He worked with Roger Adams to make the organic chemistry program at Illinois preeminent in the United States. After he retired in 1961, Marvel went on to teach and do research at the University of Arizona for another seventeen years.
Marvel worked primarily on the structure and synthesis of polymers, and he has been recognized as the "father" of synthetic polymer chemistry. Marvel’s interest in polymers intensified when he became a consultant for DuPont in 1928, a relationship that lasted about sixty years. In 1937 Marvel began to investigate the structure of vinyl polymers, proving that the repeating units in most polymers prepared from polyvinyl chloride are formed with chlorine atoms on alternate carbon atoms (head-to-tail), as Hermann Staudinger had suggested, and not on adjacent carbon atoms (head-to-head). This work led in turn to the preparation and polymerization of new monomers.
During World War II, Marvel headed a group of chemists working on the U.S. government’s synthetic rubber program, launched to ease the critical shortage of natural rubber needed for tires for airplanes, trucks, and military vehicles. Marvel helped coordinate the project involving many universities and industrial laboratories. Within a year the cooperative effort brought forth processes for synthetic rubber, providing a successful solution and helping to win the war.
In 1946 Marvel traveled to Germany as part of a technical intelligence team that investigated German efforts to develop a new polymerization process aimed at producing a better synthetic rubber by operating at 5° C instead of at 70° C as in the older process. Marvel’s group took up this research and developed the cold rubber process.
In the 1950s high temperature-resistant synthetic materials became important in the space program and Marvel, in synthesizing these polymers, developed cyclopolymerization. In the next decade Marvel synthesized polymers with repeating benzimidazole units, PBI’s, which were heat-resistant macromolecules of high molecular weight. In 1980 PBI became the first man-made fiber to be produced commercially in nearly a decade. PBI is now used as a substitute for fiberglass and asbestos (which causes health problems), and it is used in suits for astronauts and fire fighters because of its exceptional resistance to fire.
Marvel was active in the American Chemical Society, serving as president in 1945. He received the Society’s Priestley Medal in 1956, and he was founder of the High Polymer Forum that became the Division of Polymer Chemistry, which he chaired in 1950-1951. The Carl Shipp Marvel Laboratories of Chemistry at the University of Arizona and Marvel Hall at the ACS headquarters in Washington, D.C., were named in his honor.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: “My Sixty-Five Years of Chemistry” by C. S. Marvel (1894-1988)
Biography of William Albert Noyes (1857-1941)
William A. Noyes grew up on a farm near Independence, Iowa. In 1875 he enrolled at Grinnell College in classical studies, reading chemistry on his own and teaching full-time in country schools. He graduated in 1879 with A.B. and B.S. degrees, but stayed on at Grinnell to teach and study analytical chemistry. In January 1881 he entered Johns Hopkins University to study with Ira Remsen. A year and a half later he received a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins for work on benzene oxidation with chromic acid.
Noyes spent a year at the University of Minnesota as an instructor and then went to the University of Tennessee as professor of chemistry. In 1886 he began a 17-year tenure at the Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Ind., where he worked on camphor derivatives, especially camphoric acid. In 1903, Noyes became the first Chief Chemist at the National Bureau of Standards in Baltimore, where he determined atomic weights. Burning hydrogen over palladium in pure oxygen and weighing the resulting water gave a value of 1.00787:16 for the critical hydrogen: oxygen weight ratio, still one of the most precise chemical determinations ever made.
In 1907, Noyes became head of the Chemistry Department at Illinois, and in his 19-year tenure he helped make it one of the most prestigious in the United States. In 1939, to honor his work, the chemistry building at Illinois was renamed Noyes Laboratory.
Primarily an organic chemist, Noyes is 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 many years as editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (1902-1917). He was also the founding editor of the following: Chemical Abstracts (1907-1910), Chemical Reviews (1924-1926), and the American Chemical Society Scientific Monographs (1919-1941). In 1935 he received the Society’s Priestley Medal.
Arthur William Palmer (1861-1904): The Illinois State Water Survey
Born in London, Arthur Palmer received a B.S. in chemistry from Illinois in 1883 and a Sc.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 1886. Palmer then spent a year in Germany studying with Victor Meyer and August Hofmann. In Berlin, with Hofmann, Palmer began his important work on arsines, which led three years later to proof of the existence of that series. That work was finished at Illinois, to which Palmer had returned in 1889 as an assistant professor of chemistry.
In 1895, the Illinois State Legislature appropriated money to establish the State Water Survey “for carrying on a systematic survey of the waters of the state.” Palmer, with the help of a full-time assistant, directed the start of the survey. A year later, on August 15, 1896, the Chemistry Laboratory (now Harker Hall) was struck by lightning. The entire upper floor and a large portion of the second floor burned, beginning a four-year fight to convince the State Legislature to fund a new chemical laboratory. Palmer threw himself into the struggle to secure money for the new building, which eventually became Noyes Laboratory.
Palmer died two years after Noyes Laboratory opened. At his memorial service, Professor L. P. Breckenridge eulogized: “We are glad that he lived to see his cherished plans in brick and mortar finished. I shall always remember the beaming and delighted expression of his face when the money for the Chemical Laboratory was appropriated. ‘It hardly seems possible that it is true,’ he said. And then how he worked building his laboratory, watching every detail by day, and while the laborers slept he planned and thought by night.”
It is commonly believed at Illinois that Palmer died of overwork. His lasting monuments are the Illinois State Water Survey and Noyes Laboratory.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Arthur William Palmer (1861-1904)
Samuel Wilson Parr (1857-1931): Applied Chemistry
Samuel Parr joined the faculty of the University of Illinois in 1891 as Professor of Applied Chemistry, a post he held until his retirement in 1926. In 1901 Parr established the curriculum of chemical engineering.
Parr’s academic interest was the chemistry of coal and coal products. He supplied the chemistry industry with practical instruments used to analyze coal: the Parr Peroxide Calorimeter, the gas calorimeter, the automatic recording gas calorimeter, and the sulfur photometer. He developed a superior coking process after discovering that bituminous coal, after being dried below coking temperatures, decomposes with an exothermic reaction when heated to a higher temperature.
Parr worked extensively on alloys and discovered the nonferrous alloy illium, which is of high tensile strength and ductibility and is highly resistant to corrosion. Another research interest of his led to the solving of the problem of the embrittlement of boiler steel. His work resulted in vast savings for industry.
Parr founded the Standard Calorimeter Company in 1899 in Champaign, Ill. This company grew out of Parr’s development of a simplified instrument for measuring the heating value of coal. Parr’s calorie meter, or calorimeter, and other devices for testing fuel contributed to the development of the extensive bituminous coal fields in Illinois at a time when conventional wisdom held the only valuable coal in the United States came from eastern fields. In 1911 the company moved its manufacturing facility to East Moline, Ill., and a few years later to Moline. In 1933 the company became the Parr Instrument Company and it is still in operation.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Samuel Wilson Parr (1857-1931)
Charles Coale Price III (1913-2001): Antimalarial Research Program
Charles Price joined the faculty of Illinois in 1936, the same year he received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he studied under L. F. Fieser. He left ten years later to become head of the department of chemistry at Notre Dame. Price’s research interest centered on the mechanisms of various organic reactions, such as substitutions in aromatic compounds; addition, elimination, and replacement reactions; vinyl-type addition polymerization and copolymerization; the hydrolysis and oxidation of chemical warfare agents; and the reaction of biopolymers with alkylating agents. Price specialized in polymers, rubbers, and resins. He held important patents on synthetic rubber, which were marketed commercially by Rohm and Haas.
Price played a crucial role in the battle against malaria during the World War II. Price and his student, Royston Roberts, invented an optimum synthesis of a crucial intermediate on the path to chloroquine while working on the Antimalarial Research Program, which was funded by the National Defense Research Council. In developing the method, Nelson Leonard joined the effort of the students of Price and Harold Snyder to produce the intermediate on a grand scale. The pilot plant at Illinois produced sufficient chloroquine in time for its use in the Pacific Theater against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. During the war years Price also directed projects for the Chemical Warfare Service and the Committee on Medical Research.
Price served as President of the American Chemical Society in 1965 and won the ACS Award in Pure Chemistry in 1946 and the ACS Award for Creative Invention in 1974. Price played a significant role in the establishment and growth of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As founding chair of the Foundation, he helped it gain recognition and support from other chemical organizations and assisted in locating a permanent home for the CHF in Philadelphia’s historic district.
Worth H. Rodebush (1887-1959): Physical Chemistry
Worth Rodebush received his Ph.D. in 1917 while working with Wendell Latimer at the University of California at Berkeley. With Latimer, he developed the concept and theory of the hydrogen bond. He joined the Chemistry Department at Illinois in 1921 as an associate professor in charge of the Division of Physical Chemistry.
At Illinois, Rodebush pioneered the use of infrared absorption methods for studying molecular structures, especially those involving hydrogen. During World War II he helped develop rocket and double-base propellants. Rodebush’s other areas of research interest included the quantitative theory of the third law of thermodynamics, atomic structures, the vapor pressure of metals, the entropy of condensed gases, mechanisms of gaseous reactions, statistical mechanics, the absolute charge of the earth’s surface, and the ionization of electrolytes. Rodebush was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1938.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: Worth H. Rodebush
William Cumming Rose (1887-1985): Amino Acids
William Cumming Rose entered graduate school at the age of 19 when he enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale. Four years later he received his Ph.D. under L. B. Mendel with a study that was part of a series on the origin of creatine and creatinine. Rose occupied several academic posts before accepting a position at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston where he organized a department of biochemistry. In 1922 Rose moved to Illinois as professor of physiological chemistry. In 1936 the title was changed to professor of biochemistry. Until his retirement in 1955 Rose trained many future biochemists in addition to his work as a pioneer in biochemistry and nutritional science.
Rose displayed a gift as a researcher for meticulous experimentation. His early work on creatine and its dehydration product, creatinine, dealt with the role of carbohydrates in the metabolism of those compounds and with the effect of inanition (the loss of vitality that results from the lack of food and water) on the creatine content of muscle. In his continuing research in this area Rose explored the metabolic relationship of creatine to creatinine and of both to other nitrogenous substances.
In the 1930s Rose undertook experiments that introduced the idea of an essential amino acid into nutrition in both human and rodent diets. Nutritionists had known for a long time that rats fed on a diet in which the only protein was zein, which is found in corn, would inevitably die. Rose worked with the constituent amino acids rather than proteins. He still found, however, that the rats died regardless of the combination of amino acids he tried. But if the milk protein casein was added to their diet, the ailing rats recovered.
Rose concluded that casein must contain an unknown amino acid not found in zein that was essential to life. In a long series of experiments extracting and testing various fragments of casein, Rose discovered threonine, the essential amino acid that provided a satisfactory diet for rodents when added to other amino acids. In addition, Rose structurally analyzed threonine and showed that it is not synthesized by the body but must be obtained from the diet. Rose proved that different amino acids are essential for different organisms.
Rose argued that if there were one essential amino acid, there could well be others. Over the years, he manipulated the rodent diet to establish the primary importance of ten amino acids: lysine, tryptophan, histidine, phenylalanine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, valine, and arginine in addition to the newly discovered threonine.
In the 1940s Rose undertook a ten-year research project on the human diet, including the nutritive properties of amino acids. Most significantly, Rose investigated the role of proteins in metabolism and the metabolic interrelationships among amino acids. This work led to the determination of amino acid requirements for humans.
Rose received many honors during his long and productive life. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1936 and received the National Medal of Science in 1966. Davidson College, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois accorded Rose honorary doctor of science degrees. Rose also received the Willard Gibbs Medal from the American Chemical Society in 1952 and the Charles F. Spencer Medal, also of the ACS, in 1957.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: William Cumming Rose (1887-1985)
George Frederick Smith (1891-1976): The Aerosol Can
George Frederick Smith, as he was more commonly known, received all his degrees from the University of Michigan, culminating in a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry in 1922 under the guidance of H. H. Willard. Smith had joined the faculty of Illinois the year before to teach analytical chemistry.
At Michigan Smith had learned about perchlorates and, after his arrival at Illinois, he published an article on the analysis of steel in which he pointed out the advantages of magnesium perchlorate as a super drying agent. Smith had prepared his own magnesium perchlorate for his tests.
Chemists in steel laboratories started asking him for some for their own trials and Smith told them to buy it commercially, only to learn later there was none for sale. A. H. Thomas Company then financed Smith to make magnesium perchlorate for them, marketing it as “Dehydrite.” Smith made it in his garage laboratory for years, finally establishing in 1928 a small perchlorate company in Columbus, Ohio, the G.H. Smith Chemical Company. Smith’s company became the largest manufacturer of perchloric acid and perchlorate salts in the world.
During the depression one of Smith’s students, Charles Getz, who was working his way through college, learned that milk would foam if CO2 were forced into it and then the pressure released. This led to the idea of producing whipped cream by the release of gas under pressure. Getz and Smith found that nitrous oxide was the gas that worked best and they developed Instant whip, the first aerosol product to be marketed in a returnable container. Smith’s returnable container and filling system made a process invented and patented by Getz for whipping cream under pressure commercially viable.
See also: Chemistry at Illinois: G. Frederick Smith (1891-1976)
Harold Ray Snyder (1910-1994): Organic Chemistry and Antimalarial Research
Harold Snyder took a B.S. in chemistry at Illinois and a Ph.D. at Cornell in 1935 with J. R. Johnson. After spending a year with the Solvay Process Company, Snyder joined the faculty of the Chemistry Department at Illinois, becoming a full professor in 1945.
From 1957 to 1960 Snyder served as Associate Head of the Chemistry Department and from 1960 until his retirement in 1976 he had the additional responsibility of Associate Dean of the Graduate School and Secretary of the Research Board. During World War II, Snyder carried on work for the National Defense Research Committee, the Committee on Medical Research, and the W. P. B. Rubber Research Program. In the battle against malaria, he and his students worked along with Charles Price and Nelson Leonard to produce a crucial intermediate path to chloroquine. Their efforts led to the production of sufficient quantities of chloroquine for use in the Pacific Theater to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Snyder was a classical organic chemist who investigated the synthesis of amino acids, heteroaromatic systems, and the reactions of amines and indoles. He invented a new reaction process with C-alkylation of quaternary ammonium salts. Snyder investigated mechanisms of organic reactions, especially polymerization, Diels Alder reactions, and Mannich reactions.
Marion Sparks (1872-1929): Chemistry Librarian
Marion Sparks, who became a bibliographer at Illinois in 1904, created the first library catalog of the chemistry department. After her bibliographic work, Sparks became the Chemistry Librarian in 1913, serving until her death in 1929. 1913 was also the year she began teaching “Chemistry 19,” a course in chemical literature. Chemistry 19 first appeared in the university catalog in 1893.
In 1919 Sparks self-published a textbook for the course in 1919, based on her class notes. “Chemical Literature and its Use” was revised, and a second edition almost twice as long was published in 1921.
Sparks had a strong background in languages (she studied Latin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish) and a broad interest in the sciences. Her service to the Chemistry Department included translating articles and teaching chemical literature. She conveyed to her students that library work was critical: locating previous research, she stressed, was as important as laboratory work.
Back to University of Illinois chemists
Other Notables from the University of Illinois Department of Chemistry
Nobel Prize Winners from the Illinois Department of Chemistry
E.J. Corey, Chemistry, 1990
Edward A. Doisy, Medicine, 1943
Vincent du Vigneaud, Chemistry, 1955
Robert W. Holley, Medicine, 1968
Edwin G. Krebs, Medicine, 1993
Salvador E. Luria, Medicine, 1969
Rudolph A. Marcus, Chemistry, 1992
Martin Rodbell, Medicine, 1994
Phillip A. Sharp, Medicine, 1993
Wendell M. Stanley, Chemistry, 1946
Presidents of the American Chemical Society from the Illinois Department of Chemistry
William A.Noyes 1920
Samuel W. Parr, 1928
Roger Adams, 1935
Edward Bartow, 1936
Carl S. Marvel, 1945
Ernest H. Volwiller, 1950
Clifford F. Rassweiler, 1958
John C. Bailar Jr. 1959
Albert L. Elder, 1960
Karl Folkers, 1962
Charles C. Price III, 1965
William J. Sparks, 1966
Charles G. Overberger, 1967
Wallace R. Brode, 1969
Byron Riegel, 1970
Bernard S. Friedman, 1974
William J. Bailey, 1975
Gardner W. Stacy, 1979
Robert W Parry, 1982
Fred Basolo, 1963
Clayton F. Callis, 1989
Ernest L. Eliel, 1992
Daryle H. Busch 2000
Priestley Medal Winners from the Illinois Department of Chemistry
Roger Adams, 1946
John C. Bailar Jr, 1964
Fred Basolo, 2001
Wallace R. Brode, 1960
Ralph Connor, 1967
Ernest L. Eliel, 1996
Karl Folkers, 1986
Carl S. Marvel, 1956
William A. Noyes 1935
Robert W Parry, 1993
William J. Sparks, 1965
Ernest H. Volwiller, 1958
- Noyes Lab Centennial Celebration (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
Landmark Designation and Acknowledgments
The American Chemical Society designated Noyes Laboratory as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony on September 14, 2002, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Chemistry in Urbana, Illinois. The text of the plaque commemorating the landmark 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.
Adapted for the internet from “Noyes Laboratory: One Hundred Years of Chemistry,” produced by the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program of the American Chemical Society in 2002.
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