The Augustus H. Gill Award for Oil Analysis Excellence

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

Oil Analysis Beginnings
Industrial and scientific historians have traced the first use of lubricants (fats and greases) to Egypt, around 1650 B.C. However, it was the “Age of Steam Power,” beginning approximately 1850, that spawned real demand for engineering advancements in lubrication and tribology. This gave rise to a need to characterize the physical and chemical properties of fluids used as lubricants.

If one had to define a precise time when oil analysis began, it was perhaps with the experiments conducted by Sir Isaac Newton around 1687 that formed the basis for his hypothesis on viscous flow that evolved into fluid-film lubrication. But these were primarily scholarly investigations. It was not until 1831 when Charles Dolfuss demonstrated a fluid-filled vessel with a small hole in its base, noting the time taken by the lubricant to leave the vessel, that the first test instrument for viscosity (and perhaps oil analysis) emerged. He referred to this time as the “index for its liquidity.” He later called the instrument a “viscometre.” By the 1880s, Redwood, Saybolt and Engler had advanced similar viscometers deploying short-tube capillaries.

During this same period other lubricant analytical methods were also commonly used including flash point, specific gravity and friction testing. Fueled by the industrial revolution, the surge of interest in oil and lubricants led to formalized studies and research programs in the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Before long, a throng of papers and books began to emerge into the technical literature dealing with lubrication, friction devices and physical properties analysis. One book in particular, published by Augustus H. Gill in 1897, entitled “A Short Handbook on Oil Analysis,” is regarded as the seminal work on the subject.

Although a professor at MIT for nearly all his career, Dr. Gill’s passion for oil and lubrication led him towards practical applications rather than theoretical pursuits. He is credited as being the first person in the United States (perhaps the world) to offer formal instruction in the analysis of gases and oils. During his tenure at MIT literally thousands of students attended his courses on the subject.

It was because of Professor Gill’s pioneering work in oil analysis and interest in disseminating practical knowledge through education and publications that the International Council on Machinery Lubrication (ICML) chose to honor him by offering an annual award in his name. The inaugural Augustus H. Gill Award will be presented next year at Practicing Oil Analysis 2001 Conference and Exhibition by the ICML, see article on page 46.

The Augustus H. Gill Award
The Augustus H. Gill Award was formed to recognize organizations that have exhibited excellence in the application of used oil analysis in machine and lubricant condition monitoring. This distinguished award, honoring Professor Gill, was designed to motivate companies to improve machine reliability and maintenance quality through the application of oil analysis. As such, the focus of the award is not just to identify award recipients, but to encourage performance of excellence and create a means to share best practice among user organizations on a global scale. In sum, the award should go a long way to raise the bar by recognizing role models for benchmarking and setting performance standards by the oil analysis community.

What are the qualities of a user organization that might receive the distinction of being an Augustus H. Gill Award recipient? Below is a list of some of the characteristics and criteria that the ICML Awards Committee will evaluate for organizations that apply.

  • Commitment to Education
  • Maintenance Culture and Management Support
  • Performance Measurements Used
  • Proactive/Predictive Maintenance
  • Use of Standardized Procedures
  • Technology Integration
  • Contamination Control
  • Lubrication Management
  • Oil Analysis Methods and Strategies
  • Use of Information Technology
  • Continuous Improvement

ICML Awards Committee
The International Council for Machinery Lubrication is assembling a group of industry volunteers to serve on its Awards Committee. The purpose of the committee is to set policy regarding awards, review applications, nominate finalists and to make final selection of award recipients. Besides the Gill Award targeting user organizations, there are preliminary plans to offer annual awards for Outstanding Oil Analysis Lab, Best New Instrument or Software and others.

The Gill Award
The Augustus H. Gill Award features a scale model of a torsion viscometer. It is believed that Professor Gill was the first to describe the viscometer in his book “A Short Handbook on Oil Analysis.” In the years to follow there were several viscometers advanced based on this original design. These include the well-known Brookfield rotary viscometer.

Inaugural Award Set for Year 2001
It is planned that the inaugural Gill Award will be presented at Practicing Oil Analysis 2001 Conference and Exhibition. This will be a historic event in the field of oil analysis. Do you think your organization might meet the qualifications of being honored by ICML for such an award? The opportunity to apply for the Gill Award is available to you and your organization, and with that comes the opportunity to be recognized by the oil analysis community for excellence. For information on applying contact the ICML at 918-749-1453 or go to the ICML Web site and apply online at

Augustus H. Gill, Ph.D.
Augustus Herman Gill was one of the founding fathers of oil analysis and was perhaps the first to formalize it as a field of study. Gill was born in Canton, Mass., August 1, 1864, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in chemistry in 1884 at the age of 20. He continued on with MIT for three more years as an assistant and instructor in the Chemistry Department.

In 1890, Gill received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Leipzig University in Germany and returned to MIT where he was made a full professor in 1909 and emeritus professor in 1934 two years before his death.

During his tenure at MIT, Gill taught courses in oil and gas analysis and the practical testing of alkaloids, asphalt, boiler waters, casein, celluloid, essential oils, glue, inks, paper, rubber, soap and wood preservatives. In 1923, Rhode Island State College conferred upon him the honorary degree of Sc.D.

Professor Gill was one of the founding members of the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), D-2 Committee on Petroleum Products and Lubricants, having first joined ASTM in 1906. The first standards from this historic committee did not begin to emerge until about 1911. Gill was an active participant and held offices in many other professional organizations including the American Chemical Society and the Oil Chemists’ Society.

Besides his book, “A Short Handbook on Oil Analysis,” published in eleven editions, he was the author of “Gas and Fuel Analysis for Engineers” (ten editions) and “Engine Room Chemistry” (three editions). His daughter Helen Gill, also a graduate of MIT, shared his interest in oil analysis and co-authored several works with him including “A Possible Test for the Oiliness of Oils,” “Industrial and Engineering Chemistry,” May, 1926. Gill’s grandchildren Mary Elizabeth Jones and Paul Gill currently live in New England.

Jim Fitch

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About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advise...