American Chemical Society

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American Chemical Society
120 px
Formation April 6, 1876; 142 years ago (1876-04-06)
Type Scientific society
Legal status 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Donna Nelson
Key people
Thomas M. Connelly (Executive Director & CEO)[1]
Mission Advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has more than 158,000 members at all degree levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields. It is the world's largest scientific society by membership.[2] The ACS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code. Its headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., and it has a large concentration of staff in Columbus, Ohio.

The ACS is a leading source of scientific information through its peer-reviewed scientific journals, national conferences, and the Chemical Abstracts Service. Its publications division produces 51 scholarly journals including the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society, as well as the weekly trade magazine Chemical & Engineering News. The ACS holds national meetings twice a year covering the complete field of chemistry and also holds smaller conferences concentrating on specific chemical fields or geographic regions. The primary source of income of the ACS is the Chemical Abstracts Service, a provider of chemical databases worldwide.

The organization also publishes textbooks, administers several national chemistry awards, provides grants for scientific research, and supports various educational and outreach activities.


American Chemical Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.


In 1874, a group of American chemists gathered at the Joseph Priestley House to mark the 100th anniversary of Priestley's discovery of oxygen. Although there was an American scientific society at that time (the American Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1848), the growth of chemistry in the U.S. prompted those assembled to consider founding a new society that would focus more directly on theoretical and applied chemistry. Two years later, on 6 April 1876, during a meeting of chemists at the University of the City of New York (now New York University) the American Chemical Society was founded.[3] The society received its charter of incorporation from the State of New York in 1877.[4]

Charles F. Chandler, a professor of chemistry at Columbia University who was instrumental in organizing the society said that such a body would “prove a powerful and healthy stimulus to original research, … would awaken and develop much talent now wasting in isolation, … [bring] members of the association into closer union, and ensure a better appreciation of our science and its students on the part of the general public.”[3]

Although Chandler was a likely choice to become the society's first president because of his role in organizing the society, New York University chemistry professor John William Draper was elected as the first president of the society because of his national reputation. Draper was a photochemist and pioneering photographer who had produced one of the first photographic portraits in 1840.[3] Chandler would later serve as president in 1881 and 1889.[5]

Growth and Expansion

The Journal of the American Chemical Society was founded in 1879 to publish original chemical research. It was the first journal published by ACS and is still the society's flagship peer-reviewed publication. In 1907, Chemical Abstracts was established as a separate journal (it previously appeared within JACS), which later became the Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of ACS that provides chemical information to researchers and others worldwide. Chemical & Engineering News is a weekly trade magazine that has been published by ACS since 1923.[4]

The society adopted a new constitution aimed at nationalizing the organization in 1890.[4] In 1905, the American Chemical Society moved from New York City to Washington, D.C. ACS was reincorporated under a congressional charter in 1937. It was granted by the U.S. Congress and signed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt.[4][6] ACS's headquarters moved to its current location in downtown Washington in 1941.[4]

Notable Past Presidents of the American Chemical Society[5]



ACS first established technical divisions in 1908 to foster the exchange of information among scientists who work in particular fields of chemistry or professional interests. Divisional activities include organizing technical sessions at ACS meetings, publishing books and resources, administering awards and lectureships, and conducting other events. The original five divisions were 1) organic chemistry, 2) industrial chemists and chemical engineers, 3) agricultural and food chemistry, 4) fertilizer chemistry, and 5) physical and inorganic chemistry.[4]

As of 2016, there are 32 technical divisions of ACS.[7]

Division of Organic Chemistry

This is the largest division of the Society. It marked its 100th Anniversary in 2008.[40][41] The first Chair of the Division was Edward Curtis Franklin.[42] The Organic Division played a part in establishing Organic Syntheses, Inc. and Organic Reactions, Inc. and it maintains close ties to both organizations.

The Division's best known activities include organizing symposia (talks and poster sessions) at the biannual ACS National Meetings, for the purpose of recognizing promising Assistant Professors, talented young researchers, outstanding technical contributions from junior-level chemists,[43] in the field of organic chemistry. The symposia also honor national award winners, including the Arthur C. Cope Award, Cope Scholar Award, James Flack Norris Award in Physical Organic Chemistry, Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods.

The Division helps to organize symposia at the international meeting called Pacifichem [44],[45] and it organizes the biennial National Organic Chemistry Symposium (NOS) which highlights recent advances in organic chemistry[46] and hosts the Roger Adams Award address. The Division also organizes corporate sponsorships to provide fellowships for Ph.D. students[47],[48] and undergraduates.[49] It also organizes the Graduate Research Symposium[50] and manages award and travel grant programs for undergraduates.

Local sections

Local sections were authorized in 1890 and are autonomous units of the American Chemical Society. They elect their own officers and select representatives to the national ACS organization. Local sections also provide professional development opportunities for members, organize community outreach events, offer awards, and conduct other business.[4] The Rhode Island Section was the first local section of ACS, organized in 1891.[51] There are currently 186 local sections of the American Chemical Society in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.[52]

International Chemical Sciences Chapters

International Chemical Sciences Chapters allow ACS members outside of the U.S. to organize locally for professional and scientific exchange.[53] There are currently 16 International Chemical Sciences Chapters.[54]

Educational activities and programs

Chemical education and outreach

ACS states that it offers teacher training to support the professional development of science teachers so they can better present chemistry in the classroom, foster the scientific curiosity of our nation’s youth and encourage future generations to pursue scientific careers. As of 2009, Clifford and Kathryn Hach donated $33 million to ACS, to continue the work of the Hach Scientific Foundation in supporting high school chemistry teaching.[67]

The American Chemical Society sponsors the United States National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO), a contest used to select the four-member team that represents the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO).[68][69]

The ACS Division of Chemical Education provides standardized tests for various subfields of chemistry.[70][71] The two most commonly used tests are the undergraduate-level tests for general and organic chemistry. Each of these tests consists of 70 multiple-choice questions, and gives students 110 minutes to complete the exam.

The ACS also approves certified undergraduate programs in chemistry. A student who completes the required laboratory and course work—sometimes in excess of what a particular college may require for its Bachelor's degree—is considered by the Society to be well trained for professional work.[72]

The ACS also coordinates National Chemistry Week as part of its educational outreach. Since 1977, each year has celebrated a theme, such as "Chemistry colors our world" (2015) and "Energy: Now and forever!" (2013).[73]

Green Chemistry Institute

The Green Chemistry Institute (GCI) supports the "implementation of green chemistry and engineering throughout the global chemistry enterprise."[74] The GCI organizes an annual conference, the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference, provides research grants, administers awards, and provides information and support for green chemistry practices to educators, researchers, and industry.[75]

The GCI was founded in 1997 as an independent non-profit organization, by chemists Joe Breen and Dennis Hjeresen in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency.[76] In 2001, the GCI became a part of the American Chemical Society.[1]

Petroleum Research Fund

The Petroleum Research Fund (PRF) is an endowment fund administered by the ACS that supports advanced education and fundamental research in the petroleum and fossil fuel fields at non-profit institutions.[77] Several categories of grants are offered for various career levels and institutions.[78] The fund awarded more than $25 million in grants in 2007.[79]

The PRF traces its origins to the acquisition of the Universal Oil Products laboratory by a consortium of oil companies in 1931.[80] The companies established a trust fund, The Petroleum Research Fund, in 1944 in order to prevent antitrust litigation tied to their UOP assets. The ACS was named the beneficiary of the trust. The first grants from the PRF were awarded in 1954. In 2000, the trust was transferred to the ACS. The ACS established The American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and the previous trust was dissolved.[79] The PRF trust was valued at $144.7 million in December 2014.[81]

Other programs

The ACS International Activities is the birthplace of the ACS International Center, an online resource for scientists and engineers looking to study abroad or explore an international career or internship. The site houses information on hundreds of scholarships and grants related to all levels of experience to promote scientific mobility of researchers and practitioners in STEM fields.

The American Chemical Society grants membership to undergraduates as student members provided they can pay the $25 yearly dues. Any university may start its own ACS Student Chapter and receive benefits of undergraduate participation in regional conferences and discounts on ACS publications.


The Priestley Medal is awarded for distinguished services to chemistry.

National awards

The American Chemical Society administers 64 national awards, medals and prizes based on scientific contributions at various career levels that promote achievement across the chemical sciences.[82] The ACS national awards program began in 1922 with the establishment of the Priestley Medal, the highest award offered by the ACS, which is given for distinguished services to chemistry.[83] The 2016 winner of the Priestley Medal is Mostafa A. El-Sayed of the Georgia Institute of Technology.[84]

Other awards

Additional awards are offered by divisions, local sections and other bodies of ACS. The William H. Nichols Medal Award was the first ACS award to honor outstanding researchers in the field of chemistry. It was established in 1903 by the ACS New York Section and is named for William H. Nichols, an American chemist and businessman and one of the original founders of ACS.[85] Of the over 100 Nichols Medalists, 16 have subsequently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Willard Gibbs Award, granted by the ACS Chicago Section, was established in 1910 in honor of Josiah Willard Gibbs, the Yale University professor who formulated the phase rule.[86]

The New York Section of ACS also gives Leadership Awards.[87] The Leadership Awards are the highest honors given by the Chemical Marketing and Economic Group of ACS NY since December 6, 2012. They are presented to leaders of industry, investments, and other sectors, for their contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives. Honorees include Andrew N. Liveris (Dow Chemical),[88] P. Roy Vagelos (Regeneron, Merck),[89] Thomas M. Connelly (DuPont)[88] and Juan Pablo del Valle (Mexichem).[90]

Journals and magazines

ACS Publications is the publishing division of the ACS. It is a nonprofit academic publisher of scientific journals covering various fields of chemistry and related sciences. As of 2016, ACS Publications offers 51 peer-reviewed journals.[91]

Peer-reviewed journals published by the American Chemical Society

In addition to academic journals, ACS Publications also publishes Chemical & Engineering News, a weekly trade magazine covering news in the chemical profession,[92] inChemistry, a magazine for undergraduate students,[93] and ChemMatters, a magazine for high school students and teachers.[94]

Litigation and controversies

Dialog v. American Chemical Society

On June 7, 1990, Dialog filed a lawsuit against the American Chemical Society, claiming that the Sherman Antitrust Act had been violated by the ACS and arguing that the ACS' Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) should be required to license its database of scientific abstracts to Dialog.[95][96][97][98] They also raised the question of whether the CAS, which had received funding from the National Science Foundation, should have the right to restrict its information.[99] The ACS countersued, asserting that Dialog had not been paying its bills.[95][96][100] Underlying the lawsuits was increasing competition between Dialog's search services and STN International, a collaboration between CAS, FIZ Karlsruhe (Germany) and Japan Science and Technology Corp. which was also providing online search services. The legal battle went on for several years, until it was resolved out of court in 1993. CAS and STN International retained control of the abstracts. Twelve years later, in 2002, Dialog and CAS announced that CAS abstracts would be available through Dialog,[101] an arrangement that lasted until 2012.[102]

ACS v. Google

In 2004, the ACS sued Google, claiming that the new (and free) "Google Scholar" was in trademark violation of the ACS' "SciFinder Scholar".[103] The suit, which also made claims of unfair competition, was settled out of court in 2006.[104][105]

ACS v. Leadscope

In 2002, the ACS sued Leadscope, alleging that company founders Paul E. Blower Jr., Glenn J. Myatt and Wayne Johnson, who had left the CAS in 1997 to start Leadscope, Inc. had stolen trade secrets. The founders filed a countersuit, alleging that Chemical Abstracts had defamed them and engaged in improper interference and unfair competition, claims that were upheld by a Franklin County Common Pleas Court on March 27, 2008. The court awarded $27 million in damages to Leadscope. A fourth claim, that CAS had engaged in deceptive trade practices, was not supported.[106] The case was then appealed by the ACS and taken to an appeals court in Ohio and to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld Leadscope's counterclaims that the ACS lawsuit was “objectively baseless” and intended to quash competition, but not the defamation claim, stating that although "false public statements" were made, those statements were summaries of allegations being made in court documents. The ACS' actions were strongly criticized.[107]

Open access

PubChem database

In 2005, the ACS was criticized for opposing the creation of PubChem, which is an open access chemical database maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The ACS raised concerns that the publicly supported PubChem database would directly compete with their existing Chemical Abstracts Service.[108] In a May 23, 2005, press release, the ACS stated:

The ACS believes strongly that the Federal Government should not seek to become a taxpayer supported publisher. By collecting, organizing, and disseminating small molecule information whose creation it has not funded and which duplicates CAS services, NIH has started ominously, down the path to unfettered scientific publishing...[109]

The ACS has a strong financial interest in the issue since the Chemical Abstracts Service generates a large percentage of the society's revenue.[110] NPR and Nature reported that ACS members were actively lobbying US Congress to advocate their position against the PubChem database.[111][112] They are reported to have paid the lobbying firm Hicks Partners LLC at least $100,000 in 2005 to try to persuade congressional members, the NIH, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), against establishing a publicly funded database. They also were reported to have spent $180,000 to hire Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates to promote the 'use of [a] commercial database'.[113] The ACS's attempt to restrict PubChem was unsuccessful, and as of 2012, the database reportedly contained over 32 million structures and was used by 100,000 unique users per day. A British free repository, ChemSpider, created in 2009, reportedly held 27 million structures.[114]

Open access journals

In debates about open access to journals, the ACS has been described as "in an interesting dilemma, with some of its representatives pushing for open access and others hating the very thought."[115] The journal Nature reported in 2007 that ACS had hired a public relations firm, Dezenhall Resources, to counter the open access movement.[116] Scientific American reported that ACS had spent over $200,000 to hire Wexler & Walker Public Policy Association to lobby against open access.[117] In spite of opposition, a provision for the mandatory submission of NIH-funded articles to PubMed Central, an open access repository, was passed in December 2007 and became legally effective in 2008.[118]

Madeleine Jacobs reflected at the end of her term as executive director (2003-February 2015) that in 1995, preparing to introduce their first electronic journals, ACS leaders did not realize that they were entering a period of radical change. "None of us really saw the potential of the online journal, how it would revolutionize the way scientists did research".[119]

The ACS has generally opposed legislation that would mandate free web access to scientific journals. It argues that charging for journal access is often necessary to cover the costs of peer review and publishing, and that open access lacks a "sustainable financial business model".[120]

ACS journals are experimenting with an author supported open access option, ACS AuthorChoice, in which authors can pay a fee to enable free web access to their articles.[121]

As of 2014, the ACS announced publication of the first fully open access journal in the society's history, ACS Central Science, to be edited by Carolyn Bertozzi.[122] The full text of all articles in the journal will be made freely available to the public. Bertozzi has stated:

“My goal is to make ACS Central Science a highly selective journal and the primary venue for reporting the most important advances in chemistry and in allied fields where chemical approaches play a major role... Now is the time for innovative publishing strategies that focus and elevate the visibility of chemistry as ‘the central science.’”[122]

Executive compensation

The American Chemical Society has been publicly criticized for the level of compensation paid to some of its executives.[123][124][125] The salaries of the ACS executives (executive director, treasurer, and secretary) are decided by the Standing Committee on Executive Compensation which is composed of the "president, the immediate past president, the chair of the society committee on budget and finance, and two members of the society with demonstrated expertise in senior and executive staff compensation."[126]

After the ACS made compensation data for its top executives available in 2004, a group of prominent academic scientists published a letter in Chemical & Engineering News expressing their concerns.[123][124][125] Particularly criticized was executive director John Crum's total compensation, from salary, expenses and bonuses, which for 2002 was reported to be $767,834.[124][127] When Madeleine Jacobs became executive director of the ACS, the position came with the use of two Cadillac cars and a chauffeur acquired by her predecessor.[128] Jacobs later auctioned off the cars and let go the chauffeur. Criticism occurred again when Madeleine Jacobs was reported to receive a salary of over $800,000 per year in 2007.[129]

See also

Further reading

  • Chemistry... Key to Better Living. Diamond Jubilee Volume: A Record of Chemical Progress During the First 75 Years of the American Chemical Society. American Chemical Society. 1951. 
  • Skolnik, Herman; Reese, Kenneth M., eds. (1976). A Century of chemistry: the role of chemists and the American Chemical Society. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society. ISBN 9780841203075. 
  • J. J. Bohning 2001. American Chemical Society Founded 1876. ACS, Washington, D.C.
  • Reese, Kenneth M., ed. (2002). The American Chemical Society at 125: A recent history 1976-2001. American Chemical Society. ISBN 0-8412-3851-0. 


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