Hopkins, B. Smith (1873-1952) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Hopkins, B. Smith (1873-1952)

Historical Note:

B. Smith Hopkins (1873-1952) was instructor (1912-14); associate (1914-17); assistant professor (1917-19); associate professor (1919-23); professor of chemistry (1923-41); head of the Division of Inorganic and General Chemistry (1923-41); and professor emeritus (1941-52) at the University of Illinois (UI). Hopkins was a noted educator and chemist who made significant contributions to the early study of rare earths.

Hopkins was born in Owosso, Michigan, on September 1, 1873, to parents Clara Sibley Norgate and Loren Hopkins. He earned a BA from Albion College (1896) and began his career as a public school teacher at Menominee Michigan Public Schools (1897-1900 and 1901-04). He went on to earn a MA from Columbia University (1901), and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University (1906), where he studied under chemist Harmon Northrup Morse (1848-1920). Hopkins held positions at Nebraska Wesleyan University (1906-09) and Carroll College (1909-12) before joining the faculty at UI in 1912 as an instructor of chemistry. At UI, his primary research interest became the separation, characterization, and determination of rare earths and metals. In 1926, Hopkins (with Leonard Yntema and J. Allen Harris) discovered element 61, which he named illinium. However, this discovery ultimately could not be proven and "repeated attempts failed to concentrate this element [now known as promethium] any further" ("Noyes Laboratory). His research was ultimately instrumental in the US Atomic Energy Commission's studies of uranium (Courier).

Hopkins was married (1901-38) to Sarah Maude Childs until her death in 1938, and together they had two sons. He was subsequently married to fellow chemist May L. Whitsitt. He died on August 26, 1952, in Urbana, Illinois.


"Noyes Laboratory at the University of Illinois, B. Smith Hopkins (1873-1952): Chemistry of Rare Earths," American Chemical Society (ACS), accessed May 7, 2020,  https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/noyeslaboratory.html

"Separation of Rare Earth Elements by Charles James, Discovery of the Rare Earth Elements," American Chemical Society (ACS), accessed May 7, 2020,  https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/earthelements.html.

"Services Saturday for Noted U.I. Organic Chemist," The Champaign-Urbana Courier, August 26, 1952.

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