Famous American Chemists

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If you ever had a vaccine shot or have used polythene or have taken in penicillin to get rid of that sore throat, thank the chemists from around the world, for had it not been for them, the world indeed wouldn’t have been the same that it is today. Chemistry is, by far, the most overlooked branch of science but has nonetheless contributed for much of our necessities and luxuries. And while talking about chemists, the contribution made by their American counterparts is noteworthy. Had it not been for Ira Remsen the world wouldn’t have been as sweet as it is today! Quite literally, for he is credited with the discovery of the first artificial sweetener, saccharin! Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian-American, is often known as the father of the plastic industry. The nylon that you frequently use today was a baby of the American chemist Wallace Carothers study. Imagine analytical chemistry without Izaak Kolthoff. This Dutch-American chemist was known for developing the cold process of rubber synthesis. Niacin, the new vitamin found in meat and yeast was a brainchild of American biochemist Conrad Arnold Elvejhem. These are just the handful of the numerous American chemists who have through their intensive study and experiments, made the world a better place to live in. The section below throws light on the life and works of some of the renowned American chemists.
Vote for Your Favourite American Chemists
 1 
George Washington Carver
(American Agricultural Scientist and Inventor Who Promoted Alternative Crops to Cotton and Methods to Prevent Soil Depletion)
George Washington Carver
6
Birthdate: 1864
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Diamond, Missouri, United States
Died: January 5, 1943
Agricultural scientist George Washington Carver is best remembered for promoting crops that were alternative to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. He invented ways to prevent soil depletion and developed scores of products made from peanuts, including paints and cosmetics. He won numerous honors, such as the Spingarn Medal.
 2 
Linus Pauling
(One of the Greatest Scientists of All Time & Winner of Two Nobel Prizes)
Linus Pauling
8
Birthdate: February 28, 1901
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, United States
Died: August 19, 1994

Only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes, Linus Carl Pauling was an American theoretical physical chemist, who received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on nature of chemical bond and 1962 Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts to stop nuclear weapon testing. Also a prolific writer and educator, he has published 1,200 books and papers.  

 3 
Stephanie Kwolek
4
Birthdate: July 31, 1923
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New Kensington, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: June 18, 2014

Stephanie Kwolek was an American chemist remembered for her invention of Kevlar. She worked at the DuPont Company for over four decades and was awarded the company's Lavoisier Medal for her discovery. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, becoming the fourth woman to be inducted. She also won other awards including the Perkin Medal.

 4 
Glenn T. Seaborg
4
Birthdate: April 19, 1912
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Ishpeming, Michigan
Died: February 25, 1999

Glenn T. Seaborg was an American chemist who shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Edwin McMillan for discovering the first transuranium elements. He also authored or co-authored several books and articles, including 500 scientific journals. In 2005, Glenn T. Seaborg was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

 5 
Josiah Willard Gibbs
4
Birthdate: February 11, 1839
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Died: April 28, 1903

Josiah Willard Gibbs was an American scientist best remembered for making major theoretical contributions to mathematics, physics, and chemistry. As a mathematician, Gibbs is credited with inventing modern vector calculus. In 1901, he was honored with the prestigious Copley Medal for his contributions. Josiah Willard Gibbs's work had a major influence on physicists like J. D. van der Waals.

 6 
Percy Lavon Julian
(One of the First African Americans to Receive a Doctorate in Chemistry)
Percy Lavon Julian
5
Birthdate: April 11, 1899
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama, United States
Died: April 19, 1975

Percy Lavon Julian was an American chemist whose work paved the way for the production of birth control pills and corticosteroids. Julian went on to start his own company which helped reduce the price of steroid intermediates. In 1973, Percy Lavon Julian was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and became the first African-American to receive this honor.

 7 
Thomas Midgley, Jr.
(Mechanical and chemical engineer)
Thomas Midgley, Jr.
4
Birthdate: May 19, 1889
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: November 2, 1944

Thomas Midgley Jr. was an American chemical and mechanical engineer. Midgley played a key role in the development of leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were later banned due to their negative impact on the environment and human health. Thomas Midgley Jr. was granted over 100 patents during his lifetime.

 8 
Charles Goodyear
(Inventor of Vulcanized Rubber)
Charles Goodyear
4
Birthdate: December 29, 1800
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Died: July 1, 1860

Charles Goodyear was an American manufacturing engineer and self-taught chemist who developed vulcanized rubber. He invented the chemical process to manufacture pliable, moldable, and waterproof rubber which revolutionized the automobile industry. In 1976, Charles Goodyear was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

 9 
Harold Urey
(American Physical Chemist Who Won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934 for the Discovery of Deuterium)
Harold Urey
3
Birthdate: April 29, 1893
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Walkerton, Indiana, United States
Died: January 5, 1981

Harold Urey was an American physical chemist best remembered for his pioneering work on isotopes. He is credited with the discovery of deuterium, for which he received the prestigious Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1934. Harold Urey also played a key role in the development of the infamous atom bomb.

 10 
Leo Baekeland
(Chemist & Inventor)
Leo Baekeland
3
Birthdate: November 14, 1863
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium
Died: February 23, 1944

Industrial chemist Leo Baekeland is remembered as The Father of the Plastics Industry for creating Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic of the world, thus marking the beginning of the Polymer Age. His many inventions include Velox, a special photographic paper, the rights of which he sold to George Eastman.

 11 
Sidney Gottlieb
(American Chemist and Spymaster Who Headed Project Mkultra)
Sidney Gottlieb
4
Birthdate: August 3, 1918
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: March 7, 1999

Sidney Gottlieb was an American spymaster and chemist who played a major role in the CIA's mind-control program and assassination attempts during the 1950s and 1960s; the illegal human experimentation program which he headed was called Project MKUltra.

 12 
Robert Burns Woodward
(The Most Preeminent Synthetic Organic Chemist of the 20th Century)
Robert Burns Woodward
3
Birthdate: April 10, 1917
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died: July 8, 1979

Robert Burns Woodward was an American organic chemist best remembered for winning the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Regarded as the most preeminent synthetic organic chemist of the 20th century, Woodward is also remembered for his contributions to organic synthesis. Robert Burns Woodward was also the recipient of the Copley Medal, National Medal of Science, and William H. Nichols Medal.

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont
4
Birthdate: June 24, 1771
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: October 31, 1834

Éleuthère Irénée du Pont was the founder of the American gunpowder company E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company and the patriarch of the famous du Pont family of businessmen. Born in France, du Pont had escaped to the U.S. with his family during the French Revolution. 

 14 
Roald Hoffmann
(Theoretical Chemist)
Roald Hoffmann
3
Birthdate: July 18, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine)
 15 
Elias James Corey
(Organic Chemist)
Elias James Corey
3
Birthdate: July 12, 1928
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Methuen, Massachusetts, United States
 16 
Irving Langmuir
3
Birthdate: January 31, 1881
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: August 16, 1957

Irving Langmuir was an American physicist, chemist, and engineer. He is credited with popularizing the concentric theory of atomic structure. Irving Langmuir is also credited with inventing the hydrogen welding technique and the gas-filled incandescent lamp. In 1932, Langmuir won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contribution to surface chemistry. He also won other prestigious awards like Faraday Medal.

 17 
Retta
(Stand-up Comedian)
Retta
22
Birthdate: April 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
 18 
Gertrude B. Elion
(Biochemist, Pharmacologist)
Gertrude B. Elion
3
Birthdate: January 23, 1918
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: February 21, 1999

The daughter of Jewish immigrants in New York, Gertrude B. Elion excelled in chemistry at Hunter College, where she studied for free, but was initially unable to find a job due to gender bias. The renowned biochemist and pharmacologist later won a Nobel and became a pioneer in medical research.

 19 
Peter Debye
(Dutch-American Physical Chemist and Physicist Who Won the 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
Peter Debye
3
Birthdate: March 24, 1884
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maastricht
Died: November 2, 1966

Peter Debye was a Dutch-American physical chemist and physicist. He is best remembered for winning the 1936 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was also the recipient of the Rumford Medal, Franklin Medal, and Priestley Medal. In 1965, Peter Debye was honored with the National Medal of Science. In 1982, he was inducted into the Alpha Chi Sigma Hall of Fame.

 20 
Alexander Shulgin
(Rediscoverer of MDMA)
Alexander Shulgin
5
Birthdate: June 17, 1925
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Berkeley, California, United States
Died: June 2, 2014

A pioneer of psychedelic drug synthesis, Alexander Shulgin came to be known as The Godfather of Ecstasy, for reinventing the drug MDMA, or ecstasy, for medical use. The Harvard drop-out, who later studied psychiatry and pharmacology, would often experiment his newly invented drugs on himself, his wife, and his friends.

 21 
Michael Levitt
(Physicist, Biologist, Bioinformatician, Chemist, Scientist, Educationist, University teacher)
Michael Levitt
4
Birthdate: May 9, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Pretoria

Michael Levitt is a biophysicist who has been serving as a Stanford University professor of structural biology since 1987. Along with Arieh Warshel and Martin Karplus, Levitt received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013. He has also received several other awards, including the DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences and was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.

 22 
Wallace Carothers
(Chemist and Inventor of Nylon)
Wallace Carothers
4
Birthdate: April 27, 1896
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Burlington, Iowa, United States
Died: April 29, 1937

Wallace Carothers was an American inventor and chemist. He worked for DuPont where he was the leader of organic chemistry. Carothers, who played a major role at the DuPont Experimental Station, is credited with inventing nylon. Despite his success, Carothers was unhappy with his life and committed suicide at the age of 41; he was troubled by bouts of depression.

 23 
Rashad Khalifa
(Chemist, Translator, Biochemist, Computer scientist)
Rashad Khalifa
3
Birthdate: November 19, 1935
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Egypt
Died: January 31, 1990

Born in Egypt, Rashad Khalifa later moved to the U.S., where he earned a PhD in biochemistry. Part of the USI and a supporter of the Quranist movement, he was found stabbed multiple times in a mosque in Arizona. It was later revealed that Sunni extremists had killed him.

 24 
Roger Y. Tsien
(Biochemist)
Roger Y. Tsien
3
Birthdate: February 1, 1952
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City
Died: August 24, 2016

Co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, Roger Yonchien Tsien began working on the subject in collaboration with Osamu Shimomura and Martin Chalfie while serving as professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of California. Also a pioneer of calcium imaging, he is known for developing various dyes including Fura-2.    

 25 
Albert C. Barnes
3
Birthdate: January 2, 1872
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: July 24, 1951
 26 
George M. Whitesides
(Chemist and professor of chemistry at Harvard University)
George M. Whitesides
3
Birthdate: August 3, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky, United States
 27 
Charles Pfizer
(Chemist, Entrepreneur)
Charles Pfizer
4
Birthdate: March 22, 1824
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Ludwigsburg, Germany
Died: October 19, 1906
 28 
Herbert Henry Dow
(American Chemical Industrialist and Founder of the Multinational Conglomerate 'Dow Chemical')
Herbert Henry Dow
3
Birthdate: February 26, 1866
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Belleville, Canada
Died: October 15, 1930

Herbert Henry Dow taught chemistry before venturing into a business career. Though his first company was a failure, his work impressed investors, and he was soon able to establish Dow Chemical, which supplied low-cost bromine to the US markets. He later made auto pistons out of spare magnesium.

 29 
Catherine Coleman
(Chemist, Air force officer, Astronaut, Engineer)
Catherine Coleman
4
Birthdate: December 14, 1960
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Charleston
 30 
William Worrall Mayo
(Chemist, Politician, Gynaecologist, Editor)
William Worrall Mayo
4
Birthdate: May 31, 1819
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Salford
Died: March 6, 1911

Part of the renowned Mayo family of doctors of the U.S., William Worrall Mayo played a key role in establishing the Mayo Clinic. He and his two sons built the St. Mary’s Hospital, along with the Sisters of St. Francis, after the deadly tornado of 1883 destroyed Rochester.

 31 
Fraser Stoddart
3
Birthdate: May 24, 1942
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
 32 
Carl Djerassi
(American Chemist and Writer Best Known for His Contribution to the Development of Oral Contraceptive Pills)
Carl Djerassi
3
Birthdate: October 29, 1923
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: January 30, 2015

Known as the father of the pill, Carl Djerassi is best remembered for chemically synthesizing a steroid mimic of the hormone progesterone, which paved the way for the production of contraceptive pills.  That apart, he made important contributions to the synthesis of antihistamines, pest control, mass spectrometry etc. Also a successful author, he wrote several non-fictions, novels, dramas and poems.

 33 
Stanley Miller
(Chemist, Biologist, University teacher)
Stanley Miller
3
Birthdate: March 7, 1930
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Oakland
Died: May 20, 2007

Stanley Miller was an American chemist best remembered for conducting several important experiments in abiogenesis. His 1952 Miller–Urey experiment proved that inorganic precursors could be used to synthesize complex organic molecules. Often referred to as the father of prebiotic chemistry, Miller was honored with the prestigious Oparin Medal in 1983.

Harvey Washington Wiley
3
Birthdate: October 18, 1844
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Kent, Indiana, United States
Died: June 30, 1930
 35 
Yuan T. Lee
(Chemist)
Yuan T. Lee
3
Birthdate: November 19, 1936
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Hsinchu
 36 
Richard E. Smalley
(Father of Nanotechnology)
Richard E. Smalley
4
Birthdate: June 6, 1943
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ohio, United States
Died: October 28, 2005
 37 
Alice Ball
(American Chemist Renowned for Developing the 'Ball Method')
Alice Ball
0
Birthdate: July 24, 1892
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington, United States
Died: December 31, 1916

Alice Ball was an American chemist best remembered for developing the Ball Method, which became the most effective treatment for leprosy in the early 20th century. She was the first African American and first woman to work as a chemistry professor at the University of Hawaii. Alice Ball's contributions to science were recognized several years after her death.

 38 
Ellen Swallow Richards
(Chemist, University teacher, Economist)
Ellen Swallow Richards
3
Birthdate: December 3, 1842
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Dunstable
Died: March 30, 1911
 39 
Robert H. Grubbs
(Former chemist known for Catalysts for olefin metathesis in organic synthesis)
Robert H. Grubbs
3
Birthdate: February 27, 1942
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Marshall County, Kentucky, United States
Died: December 19, 2021
 40 
Paul Lauterbur
3
Birthdate: May 6, 1929
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Sidney, Ohio, United States
Died: March 27, 2007
 41 
Peter Agre
(Chemist, Molecular biologist, Professor)
Peter Agre
3
Birthdate: January 30, 1949
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Northfield

Nobel Prize-winning doctor Peter Agre revolutionized science with his work on the movement of water molecules inside the cell membrane. Born to a chemistry professor, he developed an interest in science early in his life. He was also associated with the medical schools at Johns Hopkins and Duke University.

 42 
Martin Karplus
(Nobel Prize-Winning Austrian-American Theoretical Chemist)
Martin Karplus
3
Birthdate: March 15, 1930
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria

Nobel Prize-winning Austrian-American theoretical chemist Martin Karplus has been associated with Harvard University as a professor of chemistry. The Vienna-born scientist had escaped the Nazis to move to the US. Best known for developing multiscale models for complex chemical systems, he has also worked at Columbia University and the University of Strasbourg.

 43 
Thomas Cech
(Chemist)
Thomas Cech
3
Birthdate: December 8, 1947
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
 44 
Richard F. Heck
3
Birthdate: August 15, 1931
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts
Died: October 10, 2015
 45 
George A. Olah
3
Birthdate: May 22, 1927
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
Died: March 8, 2017

Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian-American chemist George A. Olah, part of the scientists’ group The Martians, is best remembered for his pioneering research on carbocations. He moved to Canada during the revolution of 1956, after which he moved to Massachusetts and to Ohio in the U.S., eventually settling in Los Angeles.

 46 
Roger D. Kornberg
(biochemist, chemist, university teacher)
Roger D. Kornberg
3
Birthdate: April 24, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: St. Louis

American chemist Roger D. Kornberg studied at Harvard and Stanford and later taught at both these institutes. His research focuses on transcription, or the process of the conversion of DNA into RNA. Both he and his father have won the Nobel Prize, becoming the sixth father-son duo to achieve the feat.

 47 
Leo Sternbach
(Polish American Chemist Known for His Contribution in Producing 'Valium' as Well as 'Librium')
Leo Sternbach
3
Birthdate: May 7, 1908
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Opatija, Croatia
Died: September 28, 2005

Leo Sternbach is remembered for his revolutionary discovery of tranquillizers, including Valium and Librium. Born to a pharmacist father, he first studied pharmacy and then organic chemistry. He had a life-long association with Hoffmann-La Roche and ended up with 241 patents and over 100 scientific publications.

 48 
Herbert C. Brown
2
Birthdate: May 22, 1912
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: December 19, 2004
 49 
Susan Solomon
(chemist)
Susan Solomon
2
Birthdate: January 19, 1956
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Chicago
 50 
Bruce Ames
(Biochemist, University teacher, Chemist)
Bruce Ames
2
Birthdate: December 16, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New York City

University of California, Berkeley professor, biochemist, and geneticist Bruce Ames is largely known for his invention of the Ames test, used to test the ability of chemicals to cause mutations, and his studies on cancer and ageing. The Cornell and Caltech alumnus has been associated with the NIAMD, too.