History of Chemistry at Oxford

Department of Chemistry University of Oxford

In 1878 the Abbot's Kitchen was extended to provide further laboratory space for Chemistry. This extension is still used as the Inorganic Undergraduate Teaching 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.