History of Geochemistry at ISGS
Chemistry has been a major discipline at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) since its inception. Throughout the history of the Survey, research and service has included analytical, organic, physical, inorganic, biochemical, and environmental geochemistry. By the mid-1950s, the ISGS established the Chemistry Group which was composed of six Sections: Coal Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, Fluorine Chemistry, X-Ray, Chemical Engineering, and Analytical Chemistry. The Group had 33 staff members at that time.
There have also been some famous chemists at the ISGS. Just to name a few, Prof. Samuel W. Parr (1857-1931) was a Consulting Chemist with the Survey during the early years of the ISGS. He also conducted coal analyses for the Survey. He contributed an extensive database on the physical and chemical composition of Illinois coal from the beginning of the Survey in 1905 until the early 1930s. At that time, Survey began to conduct analyses in-house.
Dr. Frank H. Reed (1890-1957) joined the Survey as its first Chief Geochemist and Head of the new Geochemistry Section. During his tenure at the Survey, he developed research programs to help develop new uses for the State's fluorspar and coal resources. Dr. James Stewart Machin (1893-1973) joined the Survey in 1936 as Chemist. With time, he became a distinguished silicate chemist. Dr. Machin used the wet chemical methods of his day for elemental analysis. In the late 1950s, however, he began to experiment with new spectrochemical methods to detect chemical elements. He applied the new method to determining vanadium in coal fly ash and copper, nickel, and vanadium in crude oils. In 1960, he was named Principal Chemist. Dr. Gail Yohe (1904-1978) joined the Survey in 1945 as the head of the Coal Chemistry Section. Dr. Orin Rees (1898-1980) joined the Survey as a Research Analyst in the Geochemical Division. With time, he became the Survey's in-house expert on chemical and physical analyses of coal. He also established laboratories and hired quality people to work in them. He also analyzed crude oil samples. In 1939, he became Chemist and Head of the Analytical Division. He investigated the plastic properties of coals, and the changes in chemical composition of coal during storage.
In 1945, Dr. Glenn C. Finger (1905-1988) became the Head of the Fluorite Chemistry Section. He worked for the Survey for 40 years, and became nationally and internationally known fluorine chemist. Dr. Josephus Thomas (1927-1983) joined the Survey in 1962 as the Head of the Physical Chemistry Section. A year later, J. E. Hackett, a coal chemist, coined the term "environmental geology." In 1968, Dr. R.R. Ruch, and analytical chemist, set up the ISGS Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory.
During the 1960s, the ISGS began to investigate various aspects of air and groundwater pollution. The chemists and geochemists now had to quantitatively measure the concentrations of the elements and compounds that posed environmental threats. The environmental geochemistry studies initially focused on air pollutants, and contaminants in bottom sediments of Lake Michigan. During the mid-1970s, geochemical interests shifted to the fate of contaminants leaking from municipal landfills. During the late 1970s and on into the early 80s, Dr. R. A Griffin et al. focused their attention on the leaching of potential groundwater contaminants from coal wastes.
The current Geochemistry Section represents the union of the former Geochemistry Section with the Analytical Section in 1984. Since then, the Geochemistry Section has experienced both boon and lean times with regard to funding and administrative support. During the last 30 years, protecting drinking water quality has been a thread common to many of the externally funded projects that were conducted to meet the needs of the State of Illinois, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
As time progressed, the Geochemistry Section conducted pioneering research on coal waste management, impacts of agriculture on groundwater quality, the application of isotopes as groundwater tracers, the removal of sulfur in coal, sediment quality in Illinois lakes and streams, wetland water quality, and soil composition. The Geochemistry Section often worked closely with other sections, most notable Groundwater—in addition to the Illinois Natural History and State Water Surveys. The Geochemistry Section also formed numerous relationships with faculty and staff at the University of Illinois and other research institutions around the world. Staff members have served as advisors to students at Illinois, and have taught classes on campus. Staff members have successfully obtained funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Illinois Clean Coal Institute, the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and other sources.
In 2008, the ISGS joined the University of Illinois after being a part of State Government since 1905. While coal chemistry was a major area of research at the Survey in the early part of the 20th century, the lives of all of the members of today's Geochemistry Section have been touched by the outcome of fossil fuel combustion: global climate change.
Updated 12/3/2009 SLD