Chemical Society of Washington

CSW Hillebrand Award

The Supreme Court of Chemistry
by Lisa Greenhouse, NIST Historian

The annual Hillebrand Prize of the Chemical Society of Washington (CSW), awarded for original contributions to the science of chemistry by member(s) of CSW, is named for William F. Hillebrand (1853-1925), one of Washington's most distinguished chemists. Hillebrand achieved such stature during his career in Washington, first with the Geological Survey and then with the Bureau of Standards, that his colleagues referred to him as the "Supreme Court of Chemistry."

Hillebrand was indeed a judge and a critic but a reluctant one. As Chairman for many years of the Supervisory Committee on Standard Methods of Analysis of the American Chemical Society (ACS), he played a paramount role in judging which analytical methods would be published as ACS standards. As associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society and assistant editor of Chemical Abstracts and the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, the latter of which he founded, Hillebrand placed himself in the delicate position of having to critique and often reject the work of his professional peers. He performed these duties with great integrity but also with some unhappiness, never feeling good about disappointing his colleagues.

In several addresses to scientific societies, Hillebrand was sharply critical of what was then the growing tendency of his profession to make incomplete chemical analyses of samples, leaving out elements present in small amounts and leaving out determinations of rare elements that were thought not to be useful. This was so even when important uses for rare elements continued to be discovered. Hillebrand, an analytical geochemist by training, deplored this trend toward incompleteness and was outspoken in his criticism.

Hillebrand's conviction that analytical chemistry should be exacting was indicative of his perfectionism. More than a judge of others, he was a judge of himself. He always regretted that he had what he considered an inadequate grasp of mathematics and English composition, and he didn't fail to mention these deficiencies in autobiographical notes. He modestly referred to Thomas H. Norton, his classmate at the University of Heidelberg, where Hillebrand received his PhD, summa cum laude, in 1875, as having "superior mental power" to his own. He struggled with embarrassment over his failure to find terrestrial helium in a sample of uraninite, which he had analyzed in 1887, an error pointed up by Sir William Ramsay's later discovery of helium in a variety of uraninite.

After Heidelberg, Hillebrand studied at the Mining Academy at Freiberg, Germany. Thus prepared, Hillebrand returned to America to pursue a career as a geochemist. In 1880, after running a private assaying firm in Leadville, Colorado, a silver mining boomtown, he took a job as an analytical chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Denver laboratory. He was soon transferred to Washington where he made major contributions to the understanding of silicate rocks.

In 1908, Hillebrand moved to the Bureau of Standards (founded in 1901 as a national standards laboratory) as Chief Chemist. Hillebrand, with scant resources and a few staff members, set out on a groundbreaking path of preparing and providing well-characterized samples necessary for American industry to check its analytical methods, techniques, and instruments. The Standard Reference Materials Program that Hillebrand established continues to be one of the most significant missions of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

CSW Hillebrand Award

 
The Supreme Court of Chemistry
by Lisa Greenhouse, NIST Historian

The annual Hillebrand Prize of the Chemical Society of Washington (CSW), awarded for original contributions to the science of chemistry by member(s) of CSW, is named for William F. Hillebrand (1853-1925), one of Washington's most distinguished chemists. Hillebrand achieved such stature during his career in Washington, first with the Geological Survey and then with the Bureau of Standards, that his colleagues referred to him as the "Supreme Court of Chemistry."

Hillebrand was indeed a judge and a critic but a reluctant one. As Chairman for many years of the Supervisory Committee on Standard Methods of Analysis of the American Chemical Society (ACS), he played a paramount role in judging which analytical methods would be published as ACS standards. As associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society and assistant editor of Chemical Abstracts and the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, the latter of which he founded, Hillebrand placed himself in the delicate position of having to critique and often reject the work of his professional peers. He performed these duties with great integrity but also with some unhappiness, never feeling good about disappointing his colleagues.

In several addresses to scientific societies, Hillebrand was sharply critical of what was then the growing tendency of his profession to make incomplete chemical analyses of samples, leaving out elements present in small amounts and leaving out determinations of rare elements that were thought not to be useful. This was so even when important uses for rare elements continued to be discovered. Hillebrand, an analytical geochemist by training, deplored this trend toward incompleteness and was outspoken in his criticism.

Hillebrand's conviction that analytical chemistry should be exacting was indicative of his perfectionism. More than a judge of others, he was a judge of himself. He always regretted that he had what he considered an inadequate grasp of mathematics and English composition, and he didn't fail to mention these deficiencies in autobiographical notes. He modestly referred to Thomas H. Norton, his classmate at the University of Heidelberg, where Hillebrand received his PhD, summa cum laude, in 1875, as having "superior mental power" to his own. He struggled with embarrassment over his failure to find terrestrial helium in a sample of uraninite, which he had analyzed in 1887, an error pointed up by Sir William Ramsay's later discovery of helium in a variety of uraninite.

After Heidelberg, Hillebrand studied at the Mining Academy at Freiberg, Germany. Thus prepared, Hillebrand returned to America to pursue a career as a geochemist. In 1880, after running a private assaying firm in Leadville, Colorado, a silver mining boomtown, he took a job as an analytical chemist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Denver laboratory. He was soon transferred to Washington where he made major contributions to the understanding of silicate rocks.

In 1908, Hillebrand moved to the Bureau of Standards (founded in 1901 as a national standards laboratory) as Chief Chemist. Hillebrand, with scant resources and a few staff members, set out on a groundbreaking path of preparing and providing well-characterized samples necessary for American industry to check its analytical methods, techniques, and instruments. The Standard Reference Materials Program that Hillebrand established continues to be one of the most significant missions of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

 



YEAR  RECIPIENT(S)
  
2013
Michael Doyle
2012
Akos Vertes
2011
Debra R. Rolison
2010
G. Marius Clore
2009
James E. Butler 
2008Michael Kurylo
2007Ira W. Levin
2006Robert Tycko
2005Carter T. White
2004Catherine Fenselau
2003Kenneth A. Jacobson
2002Russell J. Hemley
2001Louis J. Stief
2000Akbar Montaser
1999Michael T. Pope
1998Ad Bax, James A. Ferretti
1997Derek Horton
1996William A. Eaton, James Hofrichter
1995Millard H. Alexander
1994Edith Wilson Miles
1993Frances S. Ligler
1992Richard J. Colton
1991Seymour Kaufman
1990Marilyn E. Jacox
1989Miral Dizdaroglu
1988David E. Ramaker
1987N. Bhushan Mandava, Malcolm J. Thompson
1986Celia W. Tabor, Herbert Tabor
1985Kenner C. Rice
1984Ying-Nan Chiu
1983William J. Bailey
1982Jimmie Reed McDonald
1981Alexander J. Fatiadi
1980Elizabeth K. Weisburger
1979Donald M. Jerina
1978James R. Griffith, Thressa C. Stadtman
1977John William Daly
1976[Award not accepted]
1975Ming Chang Lin
1974Elizabeth F. Neufeld
1973Daniel P. Schwartz
1972Frederick A. H. Rice
1971Nicolae Filipescu
1970Herbert A. Sober, Elbert A. Peterson
1969Isabella L. Karle, Jerome Karle (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1985)
1968Earl R. Stadtman
1967Everette L. May, Nathan B. Eddy
1966Arthur A. Westenberg, Robert M. Fristrom
1965Marshall W. Nirenber (Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine, 1968)
1964Ellis R. Lippincott, Jr.
1963Martin Jacobson, Morton Beroza
1962Philip H. Abelson
1961Sidney Udenfriend
1960Frank T. McClure
1959Leon A. Heppel
1958Bernhard Witkop
1957Jesse P. Greenstein
1956Francis O. Rice
1955Roger G. Bates
1954William A. Zisman
1953Bernard L. Horecker
1952Dean Burk
1951Horace S. Isbell
1950Henry Stevens, E. Jack Coulson, Joseph R. Spies
1949Lyndon F. Small
1948Edgar R. Smith
1947Nathan L. Drake
1946John I. Hoffman
1945Stephen Brunauer
1944Raymond M. Hann
1943Ben H. Nicolet
1942J. Frank Schairer
1941Michael X. Sullivan
1940Ferdinand G. Brickwedde
1939Ralph E. Gibson
1938Raleigh Gilchrist, Edward Wichers
1937Sterling B. Hendricks
1936Vincent Du Vigneaud (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1955)
1935Oliver R. Wulf
1934Frederick D. Rossini
1933Edward Wight Washburn
1932F. B. La Forge, Herman L. J. Haller
1931Gustav F. Lundell
1930Claude S. Hudson
1929[No Award]
1928James H. Hibben
1927Edward P. Bartlett
1926George W. Morey
1925Richard Fay Jackson

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