Chemical Society of Washington

ACS National Historic Chemical Landmarks

The American Chemistry Society established the National Historic Chemical Landmarks program in 1992 to enhance public appreciation for the contributions of the chemical sciences to modern life in the United States and to encourage a sense of pride in their practitioners. The program does this by recognizing seminal achievements in the chemical sciences, recording their histories, and providing information and resources about Landmark achievements.

The Chemical Society of Washington is home to the following National Historic Chemical Landmarks:

Deciphering the Genetic Code

Dedicated November 12, 2009, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland

In this building, Marshall Nirenberg and Heinrich Matthaei discovered the key to breaking the genetic code when they conducted an experiment using a synthetic RNA chain of multiple units of uracil to instruct a chain of amino acids to add phenylalanine. The uracil (poly-U) served as a messenger directing protein synthesis. This experiment demonstrated that messenger RNA transcribes genetic information from DNA, regulating the assembly of amino acids into complex proteins. Nirenberg would go on to decipher the code by demonstrating the correspondence of various trinucleotides to individual amino acids. He was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 1968.



National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Dedicated December 5, 2001, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland

For one hundred years, scientists and engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) have made broad-based and comprehensive contributions to chemical science and technology and to the economic strength and competitiveness of the United States. Through internationally recognized programs in materials characterization and standards, measurement, calibration, and synthesis—and in areas as diverse as cryogenics, weather prediction, solid state devices, and synthetic rubber—the National Institute of Standards and Technology continues to demonstrate that the intelligent application of research in physical sciences to a wide range of societal challenges contributes to a higher quality of life for everyone.



Bakelite: The World’s First Synthetic Plastic

Dedicated November 9, 1993, at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of American History houses the original Bakelizer, the steam pressure vessel used by chemist-entrepreneur Leo Hendrik Baekeland to commercialize his discovery of Bakelite—the world's first completely synthetic plastic. Phenol and formaldehyde reacted under pressure at high temperature in this sealed autoclave (ca. 1909) to form the thermosetting resin Bakelite. Versatile and readily molded, Bakelite found wide use in the expanding consumer economy and opened the door to an era of synthetic materials.