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Russell Earl Marker

Russell Earl Marker (March 12, 1902 – March 23, 1995) was an eccentric American chemist who invented the octane rating system when he was working at the Ethyl Corporation. Later in his career he went on to found a steroid industry in Mexico when he successfully made synthetic progesterone from a Mexican yam in a process known as Marker degradation, which eventually led to the development of the combined oral contraceptive pill and a cheap, ample supply of cortisone at Syntex.



Russell Earl Marker earned a B.S. degree in 1923 from the University of Maryland and an M.S. degree in physical chemistry in 1924. He started his doctoral research with Morris Kharasch at the university. He completed his work for his thesis but needed to take some required physical chemistry courses.[1] Kharasch later officially approved Marker's thesis on organomercury and quaternary alkyl hydrocarbons, but Marker never received a Ph.D. from Maryland. [2] [1]The university would award him an Honorary Doctor of Science in 1987.


In 1926, he married Mildred Collins (1899-1985) and began work at the Ethyl Corporation. He came up with the concept of gasoline formulation octane rating. He also discovered that increased branching in hydrocarbons reduced engine knock.

By 1928, he started research with P.A. Levene at the Rockefeller Institute. Over the next six years, Marker did enough research for 32 papers on optical rotation and molecular configurations. By 1934, Marker wanted to change his focus to steroid research. When Levene refused, Marker accepted a position funded by Parke-Davis at Penn State University.

In 1936 Parke-Davis sent him a steroid extract from the urine of pregnant mares. From this, he isolated pregnanediol, which he converted by already published chemistry to 35 grams of progesterone in 1937. The batch of steroid he synthesized was the largest produced till that time. Parke-Davis provided annual funding that eventually reached $10,000. Ultimately, more than 160 papers in the steroid area were published.

In 1944, Marker cofounded Syntex. In May of 1945, Marker inquired as to the profits of the company and was told there were none. He severed all ties with Syntex, and the company was unable to make more progesterone because Marker not only had done the synthesis himself but had coded the reagent bottles and took his lab notebooks.


After retirement, Marker spent time in Mexico City and State College, Pennsylvania. He became interested in three great 18th-century silversmiths and began commissioning Mexican reproductions of their works. To guarantee that each piece was correct, he spent much time in museums and other collections.


  • Mexican Chemical Society at the VI International Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Products in Mexico City (1969)
  • Chemical Congress of North America (1975)


  1. ^ a b ACS News, Vol 77, No. 43, pp 78-80, 25 Oct 1999. Copy, accessed 9 Feb 2007.
  2. ^ American Chemical Society, National Historical Chemical Landmarks: The life of Russell Marker, accessed 9 Feb 2007.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Russell_Earl_Marker". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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