Born in London,
Arthur Palmer received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois
in 1883 and a Sc.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 1886. Palmer
then spent a year in Germany studying with Victor Meyer and August Hofmann.
In Berlin, with Hofmann, Palmer began his important work on arsines, which
led three years later to proof of the existence of that series. That work
was finished at Illinois, to which Palmer had returned in 1889 as an assistant
professor of chemistry.
In 1895, the Illinois State Legislature appropriated money to establish
the State Water Survey "for carrying on a systematic survey of the
waters of the state." Palmer, with the help of a full-time assistant,
directed the start of the survey. A year later, on August 15, 1896, the
Chemistry Laboratory (now Harker Hall) was struck by lightning. The entire
upper floor and a large portion of the second floor burned, beginning
a four-year fight to convince the State Legislature to fund a new chemical
laboratory. Palmer threw himself into the struggle to secure money for
the new building, which eventually became Noyes Laboratory.
Palmer died two years after Noyes Laboratory opened. At his memorial service,
Professor L. P. Breckenridge eulogized: "We are glad that he lived
to see his cherished plans in brick and mortar finished. I shall always
remember the beaming and delighted expression of his face when the money
for the Chemical Laboratory was appropriated. It hardly seems possible
that it is true, he said. And then how he worked building his laboratory,
watching every detail by day, and while the laborers slept he planned
and thought by night."
It is commonly believed at Illinois that Palmer died of overwork. His
lasting monuments are the Illinois State Water Survey and Noyes Laboratory.