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The Chemist Volume 88 | Number 2 printDownload (pdf)
Public Understanding of Chemistry -
A Look Inside the AIC Awards Program: The Gol Medal & Chemical Pioneer Awards

Sarah Reisert
Chemical Heritage Foundation - 315 Chestnut Street | Philadelphia, PA 19106

Public Understanding of Chemistry: Chemistry and its social-political-economic context continue to change. Chemistry and chemistry-based technology that impact our lives make for the complexity and controversy of life and set the stage for thinking about public understanding of chemistry. The Public Understanding of Chemistry section will try to address chemistry in real life context with original contributions (articles/position papers/policy briefs) and/or published articles and columns in reputable sources (used with permission).

Founding Section Editor: David Devraj Kumar, Section Co-Editor: David M. Manuta


Abstract: The awards program of the American Institute of Chemists has an illustrious history dating back to 1926. This article details the history of the AIC Gold Medal and AIC Chemical Pioneers in particular, and includes comprehensive lists of winners for both awards up to and including 2015.

Key Words: Gold Medal, Chemical Pioneers, awards.

Introduction to the AIC Awards

The author has what could be considered an unusual day job: she manages an awards program. The Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, where she works, presents eight to ten awards each year, for subjects ranging from petrochemistry to biotechnology to scientific instrumentation. Another is a public lecture; yet another is for a book. Needless to say, she gets to meet a lot of very interesting people.

Many of the awards are presented jointly with CHF’s affiliates. For example, it is her responsibility each year to assist the American Institute of Chemists with their annual presentations of The AIC Gold Medal and The AIC Chemical Pioneer Awards. The awards partnership between The AIC and CHF began in 2003, and cemented our organizations’ longstanding friendship through our mutual desire to honor extraordinary scientists.

The process for selecting winners for The AIC Gold Medal and Chemical Pioneer Award is straightforward. In the early fall, the chair of The AIC awards committee sends out a call for nominations.  The nominations are sent to her office and consist of a letter of a nomination and two letters of support. Once she collects any and all nominations, she sends them to the chair who distributes them to the awards committee. The committee members reflect upon their choices, and each secretly sends their top three selections to her. When she has tallied them all, she sends the results to the chair and a winner is declared.

She is proud to be a small part of these awards with such long and illustrious histories, which she is pleased to share here with readers of The Chemist.

The AIC Gold Medal

The name William Blum might not ring a bell with many people today. Blum was a native of the author’s hometown, Philadelphia. In black and white pictures, he has a long, friendly face and eyes framed by wire-rimmed glasses. According to the Electrochemical Society, of which he was president in 1926 and 1927, “His many research accomplishments involved: the atomic weight of cadmium; complex inorganic acids; electrochemistry; electrodeposition; electrotyping; electroplating; and electroforming. Dr. Blum was one of the most highly respected authority’s [sic] on electrodeposition in his day.”

It was because of this pioneering work in electrochemistry that he was the first recipient of The AIC Gold Medal, the organization’s highest award. The medal is presented each year to a person who has stimulated activities of service to the science of chemistry or the profession of chemist or chemical engineer in the United States of America. In 1926 that person was Bill Blum, beginning a tradition of honoring scientific excellence that continues to this day.

The full list of impressive winners can be found in Appendix A and is definitely worth a look. It is a tour through the greatest chemists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and includes a dozen Nobel laureates. To give you a small idea of the caliber of scientist that has won the Gold Medal, here is a standout medalist from each decade:

  • 1930: George Eastman, photography pioneer
  • 1949: Warren K. Lewis, the father of modern chemical engineering
  • 1955: Carl Marvel, one of the world’s outstanding organic chemists
  • 1969: Henry B. Hass, discoverer of gas chromatography
  • 1973: Glenn Seaborg, co-discoverer of ten elements
  • 1987: Arnold Beckman, instrumentation pioneer
  • 1998: F. Albert Cotton, arguably the most influential inorganic chemist to ever live
  • 2004: Carl Djerassi, without whom we wouldn’t have the birth control pill
  • 2012: Elizabeth Blackburn, co-discoverer of telomerase

It should also be noted that The AIC Gold Medal was the first major chemistry award presented to a woman, Mabel Brady Garvan. Garvan, along with her husband, were recognized in 1929 for their work with the American Chemical Society and the Chemical Foundation.  (Further, she and her husband established their own award with John Olin which to this day recognizes the contributions of women scientists.) Two of the last four Gold Medalists have been women as well, showcasing the AIC’s commitment to diversity.

Today, The Gold Medal is presented jointly with the Chemical Heritage Foundation at Heritage Day, CHF’s annual celebration of the achievements and promise of the sciences and technologies that shape material culture. Hundreds of people attend.

The AIC Chemical Pioneer Award

The Gold Medal is not the only award presented by the American Institute of Chemists, though it is the oldest. Its younger brother, so to speak, is the Chemical Pioneer Award. First given in 1966, the Chemical Pioneer Award recognizes chemists and chemical engineers who have made outstanding contributions advancing the science of chemistry or impacting the chemical industry or the chemical profession. Several illustrious scientists can win the Chemical Pioneer Award in any given year; though most years honor two or three, the most ever given in a single year is seven. That record year was 1966, the first year of the Chemical Pioneer Awards.

The list of past winners of the Chemical Pioneer Award is no less illustrious than that of The AIC Gold Medal. Nine Chemical Pioneers are recipients of the Nobel Prize—six of whom were honored with the Chemical Pioneer Award years or even decades before they went on to win their Nobel Prizes. The full list is available in Appendix B, but here is a standout winner from each decade:

  • 1969: Roy Plunkett, inventor of Teflon
  • 1977: Donald Othmer, founding editor of the landmark Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology
  • 1980: Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of Kevlar
  • 1992: Ralph Hirschmann, leader of the team that produced the first organic synthesis of an enzyme
  • 2005: Bassam Shakhashiri, renowned science educator and demonstrator
  • 2014: Robert Langer, the most cited engineer in history

The Chemical Pioneer Awards are presented each year at The AIC Annual Meeting. This generally takes place the day after Heritage Day (at which the Gold Medal is presented), making for quite a celebratory week.

End Note

Except Mabel Brady Garvan in 1929 noted earlier, until recent times all the award recipients have been males. Mindful of this quite unfortunate gender gap left unattended over decades, The AIC Awards Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. David Devraj Kumar has been making every effort to increase the nominations of stellar women in the chemical sciences who have made significant, noteworthy scientific contributions. As a result, the number of women receiving The AIC Gold Medal and The AIC Chemical Pioneer awards has been steadily on the rise. 

The year 2016 is both the 90th anniversary of The AIC Gold Medal and the 50th anniversary of The AIC Chemical Pioneer Award. These are landmarks that few awards achieve while still retaining their relevance, so it is a cause for celebration indeed.  The author looks forward to working with The AIC during the anniversary year, and indeed every year, as The Institute recognizes those scientists who have changed the world are honored.


The author, Sarah Reisert, is the Awards Program Manager at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. The lists of previous The AIC Gold Medal winners (Appendix A) and The AIC Chemical Pioneer Award winners (Appendix B) are compiled from the following published sources. Previous Gold Medal Award Winners, American Institute of Chemists, Philadelphia, PA, (, and the Previous Chemical Pioneer Award Winners, American Institute of Chemists, Philadelphia, PA, ( It should be noted that some of The AIC award recipients have received the Nobel Prize before or after receiving The AIC awards.

Appendix A - Winners of The AIC Gold Medal, 1926-2015

  • 2015 Dr. Jacqueline K. Barton
  • 2014 Dr. Ronald C. D. Breslow
  • 2013 Dr. John Roberts
  • 2012 Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn
    (Nobel Prize, 2009 Physiology or Medicine)
  • 2011 Dr. Dudley Herschbach
    (Nobel Prize, 1986 Chemistry)
  • 2010 Dr. Robert Grubbs
    (Nobel Prize, 2005 Chemistry)
  • 2009 Dr. Oliver Smithies
    (Nobel Prize, 2007 Medicine)
  • 2008 Dr. Paul Berg
    (Nobel Prize, 1980 Chemistry)
  • 2008 Dr. Walter Gilbert
    (Nobel Prize, 1980 Chemistry)
  • 2007 Dr. George Whitesides
  • 2006 Dr. Roald Hoffman
    (Nobel Prize, 1981 Chemistry)
  • 2005 Mr. Robert L. McNeil, Jr.
  • 2004 Dr. Carl Djerassi     
  • 2003 Dr. Ralph Hirschmann
  • 2002 Dr. Tobin Marks
  • 2000 Dr. Yie W. Chien
  • 1998 Dr. F. Albert Cotton
  • 1997 Dr. Alfred Bader
  • 1996 Dr. Harry Drickman                             
  • 1995 Dr. George Parshall
  • 1994 Dr. Arthur Adamson
  • 1993 Dr. Fred Basolo
  • 1992 Dr. Roy L. Whistler
  • 1991 Dr. Bruce N. Ames
  • 1990 Dr. Harry B. Gray
  • 1989 Dr. Elias J. Corey
    (Nobel Prize, 1990 Chemistry)
  • 1988 Dr. George C. Pimentel         
  • 1987 Dr. Arnold O. Beckman       
  • 1986 Dr. N. Bruce Hannay            
  • 1985 Dr. Herbert C. Brown
    (Nobel Prize, 1979 Chemistry)
  • 1984 Dr. John H. Sinfelt
  • 1983 Dr. Mary L. Good
  • 1982 Dr. Milton Harris
  • 1981 Dr. Lewis Sarett
  • 1980 Dr. Arthur M. Bueche
  • 1979 Dr. Melvin Calvin
    (Nobel Prize, 1961 Chemistry)
  • 1978 Dr. Norman Hackerman
  • 1977 Dr. Max Tishler
  • 1976 Dr. Kenneth S. Pitzer
  • 1975 Dr. William O. Baker
  • 1974 Dr. W. E. "Butch" Hanford
  • 1973 Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg
    (Nobel Prize, 1951 Chemistry)
  • 1972 Dr. Harold C. Urey
  • 1971 Dr. Emmett B. Carmichael
  • 1970 Dr. Willard F. Libby
    (Nobel Prize, 1960 Chemistry)
  • 1969 Dr. Henry B. Hass              
  • 1968 Dr. Orville E. May              
  • 1967 Dr. Wayne E. Kuhn           
  • 1966 Dr. John H. Nair 
  • 1965 Brig. Gen Edwin Cox
  • 1964 Dr. Roger Adams               
  • 1963 Dr. Ralph Connor
  • 1962 Dr. George W. Parks
  • 1961 Dr. Alden H. Emery
  • 1960 Dr. Ernest H. Volwiler
  • 1959 Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt          
  • 1958 Dr. Lawrence Flett             
  • 1957 Dr. Roy Newton
  • 1956 Mr. Raymond Stevens
  • 1955 Dr. Carl S. Marvel
  • 1954 Dr. William J. Sparks
  • 1953 Dr. J. C. Warner   
  • 1952 Dr. Fred J. Emmerich
  • 1951 Dr. Harry N. Holmes
  • 1950 Dr. Walter J. Murphy
  • 1949 Dr. Warren K. Lewis
  • 1948 Dr. Charles A. Thomas
  • 1947 Dr. Moses Leverock Crossley         
  • 1946 Mr. Robert Price Russell
  • 1945 Dr. John W. Thomas
  • 1944 Dr. Willard H. Dow           
  • 1943 Dr. Walter S. Landis          
  • 1942 Dr. William Lloyd Evans
  • 1941 Dr. Henry G. Knight
  • 1940 Dr. Gustav Egloff
  • 1938 Dr. Frederick G. Cottrell                   
  • 1937 Dr. James F. Norris
  • 1936 Dr. Marston Taylor Bogert              
  • 1934 Dr. James Bryant Conant 
  • 1933 Dr. Henry C. Sherman
  • 1932 Dr. Charles H. Herty
  • 1931 Mr. Andrew W. & Mr. Richard B. Mellon
  • 1930 Mr. George Eastman
  • 1929 Mr. and Mrs. Francis P. Garvan
  • 1927 Dr. Lafayette B. Mendel
  • 1926 Dr. William Blum

Appendix B - Winners of The AIC Chemical Pioneers Award, 1966-2015

Dr. Anthony Cheetham
Dr. Ann M. Valentine
Dr. Robert Langer

Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III
Dr. Tom Tritton

Dr. Robert Lochhead
Dr. Helen Free

Dr. James Christner

Dr. Sossina M. Haile

Dr. Keith Carron
Dr. Debashsi Mukherjee

Dr. E. Gerald Meyer
Dr. Barnaby Munson

Dr. Magid Abou-Gharbia
Dr. Dennis Y-M Lo
Dr. Alan G. Marshall

Dr. David Devraj Kumar
Dr. Glenn Crosby

Dr. C.N.R. Rao
Dr. Steven L. Suib
Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri

Dr. Keki H. Gharda
Dr. Eric Jacobsen
Dr. Michael Pirrung

Dr. Gérard Jaouen
Dr. Julius Rebek

Dr. Richard A. Adams
Dr. Robert Bergman
Dr. Larry Dahl
Dr. Wilfried Mortier
Dr. Kenner Rice

Dr. John E. Bercaw
Dr. Stephen J. Benkovic
Dr. Albert I. Myers

Dr. Gregory R. Choppin
Dr. Attila E. Pavlath
Dr. Jerrold Meinwald
Dr. Murray Goodman

Dr. William Hettinger, Jr.
Dr. George Keller
Dr. Fred McLafferty
Dr. Kyriacoc Nicolaou

Dr. Ray Baughman
Dr. Ralph Parson
Dr. Gábor Somorjai
Dr. Owen Webster

Dr. Norman L. Allinger
Dr. Frederick Hawthorne
Dr. John D. Roberts
Dr. Alan H. Cowley

Dr. Derek H. R. Barton
Dr. Bruce Merrifield
Dr. George Olah
(Nobel Prize, 1994 Chemistry)
Dr. Jule A. Rabo

Dr. Fred Basolo
Dr. Ralph F. Hirschmann
Dr. George W. Parshall
Dr. Gilbert Stork

Dr. Michel Boudart
Dr. Edith M. Flanigen
Dr. Herbert S. Gutowsky
Dr. Jack Halpern

Dr. Frank A. Cotton
Dr. Michael J. S. Dewar
Dr. James L. Dye
Dr. Paul G. Gassman

Dr. Harry Allcock
Dr. Herman S. Block
Dr. David R. Bryant
Dr. Burton Christenson

Dr. Frederick J. Karol
Dr. George R. Petit
Dr. K. Barry Sharpless
Dr. John H. Sinfelt
Dr. Robert C. West

Dr. Federick E. Bailey
Dr. James Economy
Dr. Herbert S. Eleuterio
Dr. Daniel W. Fox

Dr. Harry W. Cover
Dr. Robert D. Lundberg
Dr. James F. Rooth
Dr. Howard Zimmerman

Mr. William Breneman
Dr. Alan S. Hay
Dr. Raymond Seymour
Dr. Otto Vogl

Dr. Isabella L. Karle
Dr. Robert MacAllister
Dr. Alan G. MacDiarmid
(Nobel Prize, 2000 Chemistry)
Dr. Ira E. Puddington

Dr. Harry G. Drickamer
Dr. William S. Knowles
(Nobel Prize, 2001 Chemistry)
Dr. Allen S. Russell
Dr. Barry M. Trost

Dr. Alexander Mills
Dr. Herman Pines
Dr. Roy L. Pruett
Dr. Alfred Saffer

Mr. Robert L. Banks
Dr. Elias James Corey
(Nobel Prize, 1990 Chemistry)
Dr. Ralph Landau
Dr. Quentin F. Soper

Dr. Paul H. Emmett
Dr. Denis Forster
Dr. Stephanie Kwolek
Dr. Robert M. Milton

Dr. Karl P. Cohen
Dr. Paul Harteck
Dr. Barnett Rosenberg
Dr. Leo H. Sternbach
Dr. Alejandro Zaffaroni

Dr. George E. F. Brewer
Dr. Karl Klager
Dr. Lewis G. MacDowell
Dr. John Patton

Mr. John Kollar
Mr. Henry McGrath
Dr. Donald F. Othmer

Dr. Rowland C. Hansford
Dr. Edwin T. Mertz
Dr. Wilson C. Reeves
Dr. Jerome S. Spevack

Dr. Herbert C. Brown
(Nobel Prize, 1979 Chemistry)
Dr. Rachel Brown
Dr. Elizabeth Hazen
Dr. Linus C. Pauling
(Nobel Prize, 1954 Chemistry)
Dr. Christiaan Van Dijk

Dr. Charles C. Hobbs
Dr. Samuel E. Home, Jr.
Dr. Charles J. Plank
Dr. Paul B. Weisz

Dr. Melvin A. Cook
Dr. Carl Djerassi
Dr. Paul J. Flory
(Nobel Prize, 1974 Chemistry)
Dr. Percival C. Keith
Dr. Bart Van't Riet

Dr. Paul Hogan
Dr. Herman F. Mark
Dr. Alex G. Obla
Dr. E. Emmett Reid
Dr. Lewis Sarett

Dr. C. Kenneth Banks
Dr. Oliver W. Burke, Jr.
Dr. Sterling Hendricks
Dr. Everett C. Hughes
Dr. Joseph H. Simons

Dr. Gerald J. Cox
Dr. Tracy Hall
Dr. Foster D. Snell
Dr. William J. Sparks

Dr. O.A. Battista
Dr. Irving E. Levine
Dr. Roy J. Plunkett
Dr. William Toland
Dr. Harold C. Urey
(Nobel Prize, 1934 Chemistry)
Dr. Hervey H. Voge

Dr. Ralph A. Connor
Dr. James D. Idol, Jr.
Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg
(Nobel Prize, 1951 Chemistry)
Dr. Max Tishler

Dr. Vladimir Haensel
Dr. William E. Hanford
Dr. Henry B. Hass
Dr. Carl S. Marvel
Dr. Benjamin Phillips
Dr. David W. Young

Dr. Carl Barnes
Dr. Johan Bjoksten
Dr. Herman A. Bruson
Dr. Charles H. Fisher
Dr. Robert M. Joyce
Dr. Charles C. Price
Dr. Eugene G. Rochow




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