Department of Chemistry   University of Oxford

Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) Oxford Chemistry Alumna

Margaret ThatcherMargaret Thatcher studied Chemistry in this department and at Somerville College from 1943, where her Chemistry tutor at Somerville was Dorothy Hodgkin, to date the only British woman to have won a Nobel prize. Margaret Thatcher then worked as a research chemist at a plastics company before studying law and qualifying as a barrister in 1954 while developing her role as a politician.

Of significance to this Department were the reforms that she introduced as Prime-Minister in the 1980s, which provided tax incentives for investment in start-up companies and allowed UK universities to have ownership of IP with the proviso that they first created mechanisms to exploit it. This marked the beginnings of highly effective technology transfer and the founding of many companies. Since 1988 , for example, Oxford Chemistry has created fifteen companies, six of which have had initial public offerings (IPOs) contributing substantially to the University and the UK economy.

Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013 - University of Oxford



History of Chemistry at the University of Oxford

Abbot's KitchenThe earliest periods of the development of a university chemistry school at Oxford are not easily unravelled from the simultaneous development of schools in physics and biochemistry. Chemistry was seen to be a truly separate discipline with the building of its own laboratory as an appendix to the Science Museum which opened in 1860. The laboratory stood and still stands as a remarkable small octagonal structure beside the museum, built in Victorian Gothic style deliberately designed on the Abbot's kitchen at Glastonbury. The building, one of the first purpose built chemical laboratories anywhere, is still called the Abbot's Kitchen. The laboratory was extended, still in Gothic style, in 1878 and this extension now houses the ICL undegraduate teaching laboratory.

Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory

A further major extension to the Abbot's Kitchen to add three wings was completed in 1957 and this became the main Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory (ICL). The ICL went on to comprise of five floors of laboratories, workshops, offices and seminar rooms as well as occupying for a time the whole of 9 Parks Road (the Chemical Crystallography Laboratory) and a substantial portion of the New Chemistry Laboratory (the Old Pharmacology building) in South Parks Road. It is the biggest school of inorganic chemistry in the UK and one of the biggest in the world.

The laboratory has had a remarkable series of professors associated with it. The early professors include Oddling 1855 to 1912 who has claims to being the formulator of the Periodic Table and Soddy 1919 to 1936 Nobel Prize winner for his discovery with Rutherford of radiochemical series. He was followed by a second Nobel Prize winner now for chemical kinetics, Hinshelwood 1937 to 1964, who was professor of physical and inorganic chemistry. The first inorganic professor in succession were Anderson 1963 to 1975 and Goodenough 1975 to 1988 renowned for their work leading to the renaissance of solid state chemistry and today Green 1988 who has been involved in much imaginative work in organometallic chemistry. In the last forty years the branch of bio-inorganic chemistry was initiated and developed by Williams, Hill and their collaborators. Amongst those who worked in the laboratory or were closely associated with it were Sidgwick the author of a monumental work on inorganic chemistry; Linnett (later vice-chancellor of Cambridge); Powell and the Nobel Prize winner in crystallography, Hodgkin. Both the last two were housed in the Chemical Crystallography department which has always been associated with Inorganic Chemistry; and Hume-Rothery who developed metallurgy or material science in Oxford.

Physical Chemistry History

As part of the 50th Anniversary of the PTCL in 1991 a book was produced detailing the history of the laboratory. The contents of these pages is based on that book. In the first section are some facts, figures and so on from published reports and members of the laboratory collated by Richard Barrow, whilst the second part is a personal account by John Danby. The original text was written in 1991, but was updated by Professor Sir John Rowlinson to include activity over the period 1991-2001. Read the online web version of the book.

The Dyson Perrins Laboratory and Oxford Organic Chemistry 1916-2004

John Jones with the help of Part II students Rachel Curtis, Catherine Leith, Joshua Nall published a book titled the Dyson Perrins Laboratory and Oxford Organic Chemistry 1916-2004. This book is primarily a history of Oxford University’s Dyson Perrins Laboratory, which was opened in 1916 and was the base of one of the world’s leading Departments of Organic Chemistry until 2003. It was named in honour of CW Dyson Perrins, who made a massive benefaction derived from Lea & Perrins Worcester sauce. When the building was handed over to other university use in 2004, it was declared a Historic Chemical Landmark by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The book was published by John Jones in November 2008 (Reprinted 2009) ISBN 978-0-9512569-4-7 and though now no longer available for sale, it can be read here online.

The Dyson Perrins Laboratory

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