Do You Know Your ECS History?

ECS at 115

The Electrochemical Society was founded 115 years ago as the American Electrochemical Society. That’s based on the inaugural meeting held April 3-5, 1902 in Philadelphia, PA. Twenty papers were presented and recorded in Transactions of the American Electrochemical Society, Vol. 1, No. 1.

You could say the Society was born out of the indifference of what was known at the time as the Council of the American Chemical Society. Around this time, ACS took no action on a proposal to form an electrochemical section or division. That led Joseph Richards, the first president of the Society, to write in the inaugural Transactions:

“The day is past, we all acknowledge, when one man, even be he Newton, can know all that is to be known … the day is passing when any one society can even cover satisfactorily the whole field of any one science …”

Meeting for organization

And so in November of 1901 about 30 engineers, chemists, and scientists were invited by letter to attend “the meeting for organization” where they would create an organization:

“Its functions should be those of bringing electrochemists into personal contact with each other; of disseminating among them all the information known to, and which can be spared by, their co-workers; to stimulate original thought in these lines by mutual interchange of experience, and by papers and discussions; to stimulate electrochemical work all over the world by publishing the news of what is being done here in America.”


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Supporting Science and Scientists

ECS at 115

“The Society could not help but to come into existence.”
– Joseph Richards, 1st ECS president

This spring, The Electrochemical Society will be 115 years old.

A 115th anniversary is not a milestone that normally warrants celebration but today, more than ever, we need to support science, scientists, and the core values that make our community strong.

For over a century ECS has adhered to the principles expressed by Joseph Richards, the Society’s first president, in the Transactions introduction from the Society’s first meeting:


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We’re delving into our archives as part of our continuing Masters Series podcasts. In 1995, ECS and the Chemical Heritage Foundation worked to compile various oral histories of some of the biggest names in electrochemical and solid state science.

One key figure is Charles Tobias. Often referred to as the “father of electrochemical engineering.” Tobias took a field that deals with the effects of electricity produced by chemical reaction and gave it a sound scientific footing.

Throughout his years at Berkeley, Tobias influenced the lives of many students and faculty members. He was not only a scholar, but a role model and friend to many – especially at ECS where he served as the Society’s president from 1970-71.

Listen and download these episodes and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Nettie StevensPrior to the turn of the 20th century, society pondered a question that baffled people for millennia: What drives the sex of a baby? What makes a boy a boy? What makes a girl a girl?

Pioneering female geneticist Nettie Stevens set out to tackle that mystery in 1905, when she discovered the sex is determined by chromosomes. Pretty revolutionary stuff for a society that assumed that mother, environment, or diet determined if a child was born male or female.

Today would be her 155th birthday, which Google is honoring with their daily doodle.

Interestingly enough, when Stevens presented her initial work on chromosomes’ role in sex determination, it was pretty widely denied by the scientific community. However, when Edmund Wilson (who also believed environmental factors also played some role in determining sex) released research that same year that came to the same relative conclusion as Stevens’, the connection between chromosomes and sex determination became more widely accepted.

Essentially, the foremost researcher in sex determination’s work was initially rejected largely because of her sex. While Stevens’ work eventually stood on its own merit and gave us the ultimate understanding for sex determination, her story speaks to the struggles that women in STEM faced, and often still face today.

(READ: “Celebrating Women in STEM“)

When Stevens died in 1912 from breast cancer, the New York Times wrote, “She was one of the very few women really eminent in science, and it took a foremost rank among the biologists of the day.”

Michael Faraday notebooks

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Michael Faraday is a household name to those in the science, but the breadth and depth of his pioneering work is sometimes overlooked in lieu of modern day developments. In an effort to preserve and highlight the enormous impact of Faraday’s work, the UNESCO has announced that the pillar of electrochemistry’s notebooks (held by the Royal Institution) have been added to the UK Memory of the World Register.

The Memory of the World Register was established in 1992 and is a catalogue of the world’s most prized documentary and audiovisual heritage. Faraday’s notebooks will join the ranks of documents such as the Magna Carta and the Death Warrant of King Charles I.

The significance of notebooks lies in Faraday’s documentation and development of some of the most important physical and chemical discoveries of the 19th century. Many have referred to Faraday as one of the greatest experimentalists ever, especially due to his work on electricity that found expression in day-to-day technology. His work on electromagnetic rotations and induction transformed electrical devices as we know them, opening the door for the development of motors, transformers, and generators.


ECS Podcast – Oral History of Harold J. Read

We’re delving into our archives with our new Masters Series podcasts. In 1995, ECS and the Chemical Heritage Foundation worked together to compile oral histories of some of the key players in electrochemical and solid state science. Now, we’re bringing those personal perspectives to life.

Today you’ll be hearing from Harold J. Read, a renowned metallurgist who turned his private workspace into a military metal shop to assist in work on the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Listen and download these episodes and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Google Celebrates Electrochemistry

In honor of Alessandro Volta’s 270th birthday, Google is celebrating the man best known for inventing the first battery with today’s Google Doodle.

While Volta was a trained physicist, many consider him to be the first great electrochemist. By inventing the first battery, which he called the electric “pile”, he established the starting point of electrochemical science and technology with the first notable electrochemical storage device.

The turning point for Volta’s development of the battery came in 1780, when his collaborator Luigi Galvani discovered that the contact of two different metals with the muscle of a frog leg resulted in the generation of electric current.

Volta respectfully disagreed with Luigi’s theory that animal tissue was essential in the creation of electricity, arguing that the frog legs served only as an electroscope and further suggested that the true source of stimulation was the contact between dissimilar metals. With this theory, he began experimenting with metals alone in 1794.


“The first meeting that I attended was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1928. I went with Dr. W. C. Moore, who had previously persuaded me to become a member. I knew immediately that I was interested in the Society. That interest was not due to the papers that I listened to. There was nothing strictly on electro-organic on the program. I believe that it was due to the enthusiasm of the group, and the fact that I was made to feel that I belonged.”
-Sherlock Swann, Jr.

An article by Richard Alkire in the latest issue of Interface.

Electro-organic chemistry had its champion in Sherlock Swann, Jr. His scholarship, especially his massive bibliographic efforts, served singlehandedly to keep alive the promise and spirit of electro-organic chemistry in the U.S. from the 1930s to the 50s.

He was a charter member of the Electro-organic Division of The Electrochemical Society, formed in 1940, and was the first person to hold the offices of Secretary, Vice-Chair, and Chair of that Division. Beginning with his first ECS meeting in 1928 and continuing throughout his life, he played an active role in the Society, including a term as President in 1958-59. He was the Electro-organic Divisional Editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, 1939-59; the Lifetime Honorary Chair of the Chicago Section; and was made an Honorary Member of the Society in 1974.

Swann was born in 1900 in Baltimore, Maryland, where his family had deep roots and a tradition of service to society. His great-grandfather, Thomas Swann, served as governor of Maryland, as mayor of Baltimore, as President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and was a leading force in the creation of Druid Hill Park, Baltimore’s first large municipal park. His father served as Baltimore police commissioner and subsequently as Postmaster, and led the reconstruction of downtown Baltimore police commissioner and subsequently as Postmaster, and led the reconstruction of downtown Baltimore and its streets after the Great Fire of 1904.

Read the rest.