William A. Noyes

William A. Noyes

William Albert Noyes
Born November 6, 1857
near Independence, Iowa
Died October 24, 1941(1941-10-24) (aged 83)
Citizenship United States
Fields Chemistry
Institutions University of Illinois
Alma mater Johns Hopkins University
Doctoral advisor Ira Remsen
Doctoral students Carl Shipp Marvel
Known for Camphor chemistry
Notable awards Willard Gibbs Award (1919)

William Albert Noyes (November 6, 1857 – October 24, 1941) was an chemist. He made pioneering determinations of atomic weights, chaired the Chemistry Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1907 to 1926, was the founder and editor of several important chemical journals, and received the American Chemical Society's highest award, the Priestley Medal, in 1935.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Department Heads of Chemistry at the University of Illinois 2.1
  • Editor 3
  • Death and honors 4
  • Family 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Noyes was born on November 6, 1857 near Independence, Iowa. He earned A.B. and B.S. degrees from Grinnell College in 1879 (having originally enrolled in 1875 in classical studies, with chemistry as a side subject). As an undergraduate, in the winter quarters Noyes taught school full-time in the countryside. On graduating he studied and taught analytical chemistry at Grinnell, until he began graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in January 1881. There, working with Ira Remsen, Noyes earned his Ph.D. in 1882. His doctoral dissertation "On the oxidation of benzene with chromic acid" was completed in only one and a half years (despite his also having to do water analyses to earn a living). Grinnell also awarded him an A.M. degree for this work.


After receiving his doctorate, Noyes taught a year as an instructor at the University of Minnesota. He was next a professor of chemistry at the University of Tennessee, followed by seventeen years at Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana (starting there in 1886). In 1903, Noyes was hired as the first "Chief Chemist" for the United States National Bureau of Standards in Baltimore, Maryland. His determination of atomic weights lead to "one of the most precise chemical determinations ever made", the ratio of the masses of hydrogen to oxygen (which he found to be 1.00787:16). With H.C.P. Weber, he received the Nichols Medal (chemistry) in 1908 for determining the atomic weight of chlorine.

In 1907 he became camphor definitively and studied rearrangements in camphor and related compounds. He also worked on "electronic theories of valence, and the valence and nature of nitrogen in nitrogen trichloride" as well as developing "methods for the determination of phosphorus, sulfur, and manganese in iron".

Department Heads of Chemistry at the University of Illinois

Head Years of Service Years
A. P. S. Stewart 1868-1874 6
Henry A. Weber 1874-1882 8
William McMurtrie 1882-1888 6
J. C. Jackson 1888 1
Arthur W. Palmer 1889-1904 15
Harry S. Grindley 1904-1907 3
William A. Noyes 1907-1926 19
Roger Adams 1926-1954 28
Herbert E. Carter 1954-1967 13
Herbert S. Gutowsky 1967-1983 16
Larry R. Faulkner 1984-1989 5
Gary B. Schuster 1989-1994 5
Paul W. Bohn 1995-1999 5
Steven C. Zimmerman 1999-2000 1
Gregory S. Girolami 2000-2005 5
Steven C. Zimmerman 2005-


Noyes was the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society from 1902 to 1917. In addition, he founded Chemical Abstracts and was its first editor from 1907 to 1910. He also founded American Chemical Society Scientific Monographs (serving as its first editor from 1919 to 1941) and Chemical Reviews (serving as its first editor from 1924 to 1926). Following the First World War, Noyes sought to promote international understanding and to reestablish harmonic relations between French and German chemists.

Death and honors

Noyes received the Priestley Medal, the American Chemical Society's highest award, in 1935. He died on October 24, 1941.

The Noyes Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was so named in his honor in 1939. The lab was originally built in 1902, expanded under Noyes in 1916 (more than doubling its size) and named an ACS National Historical Chemical Landmark by the ACS in its 100th year, 2002.


Noyes was the youngest son of Spencer W. Noyes and Mary Noyes, and was born on their farm. His first wife was Flora Collier Noyes. They had several children, but all except William Albert Noyes, Jr., (born April 18, 1898, in Terre Haute, Indiana) died in early childhood. Flora was in poor health for some years before her death in March 1900. Noyes remarried in 1901 and had a son, Charles, in 1904. His second wife died of a stroke in August 1914. In the fall of 1915, Noyes married his third wife, Katharine Macy Noyes. They had two sons, Richard and Pierre. Albert, Richard, and Pierre all followed their father into the sciences and academia.


External links