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Inorganic Chemistry (a section of the Department of Chemistry)

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A Short History of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory


The 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 a further major extension to add three wings was completed in 1957. The main Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory now comprises five floors of laboratories, workshops, offices and seminar rooms as well as occupying the whole of 9 Parks Road (the Chemical Crystallography Laboratory) and a substantial portion of the New Chemistry Laboratory 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.



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