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About the Hawaii Local Section

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By Art Mori

The ACS was founded in 1876, the same year that the cornerstone for `Iolani Palace was laid.  Three years later, ACS began publishing the Journal of the American Chemical Society, commonly referred to as JACS.  Today it is arguably the gold standard of chemistry journals.  In 1907, Chemical Abstracts was first published as a freestanding publication.  It had previously appeared in JACS.

An operation as large as ACS is obviously made up of many parts.  The membership is divided into 190 local sections, one of which is our own Hawai`i Section.

Our section has a long and interesting history.  In 1909 Carlton C. James, a chemist with Pacific Guano and Fertilizer Company and a member of the Hawaiian Chemists Association, first wrote to the national ACS requesting information in order to establish a local section in Hawai`i.  This was only 33 years after ACS was founded and only two years after the publication of the first volume of Chemical Abstracts.  It would be interesting to know when the Hawaiian Chemists Association was founded.

Unfortunately for Carlton James, it would not be until 1922 that there were a sufficient number of ACS members for a charter to be granted.  The list of members of the 1922 Hawaii Section includes a Castle and a Dillingham as well as the aforementioned Carlton James.  We all know that the early missionary families came to Hawai`i to do good and ended up doing well.  It seems as though a few of their offspring also did chemistry.

In the early days of the section, the membership was made up of UH professors, private and public high school teachers, pineapple industry chemists, and employees from the recently established Hawaiian Sugar Planters Experimental Station (and I presume the Pacific Guano And Fertilizer Company).  By 1924 the section had grown to forty members.  The membership held steady during the nineteen twenties and thirties, reflecting the relatively stable state of the sugar and pineapple industries.  However, more and more faculty members from UH began to assume roles of responsibility. [See a List of the Chairs and Councilors of the ACS Hawaii Section from 1922 to 2009 attached]

During World War II, the local section was mobilized to undertake a wide range of projects: gas decontamination procedures, oil spill cleanup, fireproofing camouflage material, desiccation of blood plasma, producing agar from algae, blackening aluminum surfaces, etc.

During the 1940’s, speakers at the section meetings were drawn from the various scientific disciplines at the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA), the Pineapple Research Institute, and the University of Hawai`i.  By 1949 the membership had grown to 136.

Since WWII the membership of the Hawai`i section has steadily grown to its present number of almost 250.  The change in the makeup of the membership has reflected the history of the state.  There are no longer large numbers of chemists employed in the sugar and pineapple industries.  On the other hand, chemistry and chemistry related departments at the University of Hawai`i have grown significantly.  The demand for chemical expertise by city, state, and federal agencies coupled with the need for analytical and environmental testing and monitoring together with the establishment of biotech and other research enterprises has swelled the number of chemists in the state.

In 1979 the local section hosted an international chemical congress jointly sponsored by the national ACS and the Chemical Society of Japan.  Almost 10,000 chemists from around the world attended.  From that initial successful meeting, the International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies (PACIFICHEM) was born.  It is held in Honolulu every five years and has become one of the largest and most prestigious of international scientific meetings.  At the last congress in 2005, over 11,000 papers were presented, a record for any technical meeting ever held.

Over the years our section has established lectureships, hosted regional meetings, held mini symposia, and promoted interests in chemical education.  In 1937 the section established its first student award, the O.C. Magistad Award for the outstanding UH graduate majoring in chemistry.  Over the years more awards have been added so that today over sixty students ranging from intermediate school to graduate school are recognized at this awards banquet.

Fifty-one years ago, the section was an original sponsor of the Hawai`i State Science and Engineering Fair.  It continues today to support the fair financially and to award, as we are this evening, cash prizes to outstanding projects in the area of chemistry. 

The chemists who have chaired the section are an interesting group.  Several here this evening have held that position.  Barbara Rogers enjoyed the job so much that she served for two years in a row.  Those early chemists took their turns, as have the chemistry department chairs at UH. Two chemists named Mori have served, one of Japanese descent, the other Italian.  Ma Bilger, long time chair of the UH chemistry Dept, was the first woman to serve.  Her colorful life deserves a worthy biography.  Hugo Kortschak, the HSPA researcher who added so much to the theory of photosynthesis first proposed by Melvin Calvin, served as chair.  It was in Hugo’s home that IHS (the peanut butter ministry) started.  He was a great humanitarian as well as a great chemist.  Paul Scheuer served as chairman twice.  Paul was, of course, the father of the study of marine natural products.  In addition, Paul kept a keen eye on the affairs of the local section, a constant reminder of the need for law and order.  We miss his wise council and frank opinions.  Much of this short history is based on notes compiled by Dawes Hiu, Paul’s first Ph.D. student and, for many years, Academic Dean at Chaminade University.

I think that you can see just how important our section is.  The Hawai`i section of the ACS has played and will continue to play an important role in the history of Hawai`i.

In 1997 our section celebrated its 75th anniversary.  Let me invite all of you to our 100thanniversary party in 2022.  Incidentally for those interested in numerology, our 300th anniversary year sounds like a Frank de Lima ad: two-two, two-two!