The History of the Frank F. Spedding Award

The Frank H. Spedding Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science and Technology of the Rare Earths has been awarded previously fifteen times, typically at the Rare Earth Research Conferences (RERCs), which will number 29, including the 2020 Philadelphia Conference. The previous awardees include: W. E. Wallace, Georg Busch, S. Legvold and W. Koehler, A. Mackintosch and H. Bjerrum Moeller, B. R. Judd, Karl Gschneidner, Jr., LeRoy Eyring, Gregory R. Choppin, Brian Maple, Lynn Boatner, John Corbett, William J. Evans, Gerd Meyer, Joe D. Thompson, and most recently, Kenneth N. Raymond.

In 2000, Dr. Joanne A. Goldman wrote an article for Technology and Culture, the signature periodical for the Society for the History of Technology, in which she surveyed the history of the Ames Laboratory and Frank Spedding in her article entitled “National Science in the Nation’s Heartland: The Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University, 1942-1965.” Frank Spedding’s leadership role in the development of the Institute for Atomic Research (IAR), the Ames Laboratory, and the critical chemical separation and purification methods for rare earth elements highlighted the symbiotic relationship between the leader/scientist, a National and International treasure of information, and a Land Grant university.

According to Goldman’s article, Spedding received his Ph. D. from Berkeley in 1929 and was soon quickly recognized for his work in spectroscopy and rare-earth chemistry, being awarded the Langmuir Award from the American Chemical Society, and a Guggenheim Fellowship to Europe for the 1934-5 academic year. In 1935, he received a two-year Baker Fellowship at Cornell, working with Hans Bethe, and joined the faculty at Iowa State College (University) in 1937.

As the Rare Earth community well appreciates, the “Fraternal Fifteen” elements, so named by Karl Gschneidner in 1964, comprise a host of interesting properties that make them noteworthy – Spedding noted in his “Spedding Papers” (ISU Archives, 1951) that pronounced magnetic properties arise from the filling of the 4f shell, leading to magnetic properties of great technological importance. And yet, these fraternal fifteen were considered “contaminants” by many.

The demands of the war years required the development of purification techniques on a grand scale, and the rare earth elements that naturally associated with uranium ores were considered contaminants that needed to be separated. Moreover, rare earth elements are found among the fission products of nuclear reactions, and separation is needed to purify unspent fuels and plutonium. Spedding’s young IAR was at the heart of some of the most critical separation and purification processes for the Manhattan Project effort, and it would be the separations developed therein that would kindle the processes that would later benefit all of rare earth chemistry and physics.

And so, the Rare Earth Research community recognizes the accomplishments of one of our own by celebrating under the watchful eyes of Frank Spedding, a pioneer among many who recognized the scientific and technological implications of the “Fraternal Fifteen”.

A Bibliographical Memoir of Frank Harold Spedding, Member of the National Academy of Sciences, written by John D. Corbett can be found under the following link:

Karl Gschneidner’s (educational) pamphlet on “The Fraternal Fifteen” was published in December 1964, see