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2017-current: Judith Burstyn is department chair
2017: Bergman wins Wolf Prize in Chemistry
For his work on the activation of C-H bonds of hydrocarbons by soluble transition-metal complexes, alumnus Robert Bergman (Ph.D. ’66, Berson) receives the Wolf Prize in Chemistry.
Judith Burstyn is department chair
2013-2017: Robert McMahon is department chair
CHOPs program launches
To draw diverse perspectives to the university, the department launches the Chemistry Opportunities Program (CHOPs). The program seeks to recruit under-represented students to the department.
Bassam Shakhashiri serves with ACS
During this time period, Professor Bassam Shakhashiri leads the American Chemical Society as president. His major initiatives include helping to advance graduate education in the chemical sciences and educating the public about climate change.
2010-2013: James Weisshaar is department chair
2007-2010: Robert Hamers is department chair
2004-2007: James Skinner is department chair
2004: Charles Casey serves with ACS
Professor Charles Casey is American Chemical Society president in 2004. His major presidential initiatives include demonstrating the value of chemistry to the public and advocating for science education.
2001-2004: John Wright is department chair
Hirschmann receives National Medal of Science
In recognition of his leadership in synthesizing an enzyme for the first time, alumnus Ralph Hirschmann (Ph.D. ’50, Johnson) receives the National Medal of Science.
MacDiarmid wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry
For his work on the discovery and development of conductive polymers, alumnus Alan MacDiarmid (Ph.D. ’53, Hall) is named a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Shain Research Tower opens
The Shain Tower is named in honor of Professor Irving Shain, a former department chair and university chancellor.
1998-2001: Charles Casey is department chair
Casey later serves as president of the American Chemical Society (2004)
1995-1998: Fleming Crim is department chair
Crim later serves as assistant director of the National Science Foundation Directorate for Mathematics & Physical Sciences
1987: Bird receives National Medal of Science
For his research on kinetic theory, transport phenomena, and the behavior of polymeric fluids, alumnus R. Byron Bird (Ph.D. ’50, Hirschfelder) receives the National Medal of Science.
1986-1995: Paul Treichel is department chair
1984-1990: Bassam Shakhashiri serves with NSF
During this time period, Professor Bassam Shakhashiri works as assistant director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Science and Engineering Education
1983: Chemical education programs
The Institute for Chemical Education (ICE) was founded in 1983, in an effort to help science educators develop and share their ideas.
1982-1986: Phillip Certain is department chair
Certain later serves as dean of the College of Letters & Science.
1982: Stork receives National Medal of Science
Alumnus Gilbert Stork (Ph.D. ’45, McElvain) receives the National Medal of Science for his role in the discovery of various synthetic reactions which have made possible the synthesis of important biologically active compounds.
1980-1982: Barry Trost is department chair
1977-1980: Dennis Evans is department chair
1973: Djerassi receives National Medal of Science
For his major contributions to the elucidation of the complex chemistry of steroid hormones and their application to oral contraceptives, alumnus Carl Djerassi (Ph.D. ’45, Wilds) receives the National Medal of Science.
1972-1977: Richard Fenske is department chair
1972: Moore wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry
For his contribution to the understanding of the connection between chemical structure and catalytic activity of the active centre of the ribonuclease molecule, alumnus Stanford Moore (Ph.D. ’38, Link) is named a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
1970-1972: John Willard is department chair
1967-1970: Irving Shain is department chair
Shain later serves as vice chancellor and chancellor at UW-Madison.
1962: Mathews Building opens
The Daniels Building opens soon after, in 1968; the two buildings are named for former department chairs J. Howard Mathews and Farrington Daniels.
1960: Zimmerman joins the faculty
Regarded as a pioneer in the field of photochemistry, Professor Howard Zimmerman spends 40 years at the university and takes pride in helping prepare students for careers in research.
1959-1967: John Ferry is department chair
1952-1959: Farrington Daniels is department chair
1950: Bender oversees Chemistry Instrument Center
In the late 1950s as director of the CIC, Professor Paul Bender establishes classes to teach students to use the instruments. The center, which opened in the 1920s, provides exceptional access to world-class instruments, services, and instruction to this day.
Second ultracentrifuge in the U.S. arrives on campus
The instrument has assisted in projects ranging from the development of the plastics industry to the purification of gamma globulin.
Hirschfelder joins the faculty
Professor Joseph O. Hirschfelder, known as the founder of modern theoretical chemistry, founds the Theoretical Chemistry Institute, which annually awards the internationally recognized Hirschfelder prize in his honor.
1923: First National Symposium on Colloid Chemistry
As chair, Mathews encourages the exploration of new areas of chemistry, including colloid systems. During this era, the university hosts Swedish chemist Theodor “The” Svedberg, a leading experimentalist who conceives the ultracentrifuge.
1919-1952: Mathews becomes chair
Professor J. Howard Mathews had earned a bachelor’s at UW-Madison and had been a founding member of Alpha Chi Sigma. The department’s reputation continues to grow during Mathews’ 33-year tenure as chair.
1913: First woman chemistry Ph.D. recipient
Nellie Wakeman is the first woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry at UW-Madison. Her adviser is Professor Edward Kremers, a pharmaceutical chemist.
1907-1919: Louis Kahlenberg is department chair
Professor Louis Kahlenberg (B.S. 1892, M.S. 1893), who joined the faculty in 1895, served as department chair from 1907-19, and is credited with initiating the first renaissance within UW-Madison chemistry.
1902: Alpha Chi Sigma founded
As chemistry enrollment and undergraduate student involvement began to flourish, UW-Madison chemistry students found a professional fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma (AXΣ). The organization now boasts 50 chapters nationwide.
1899: First chemistry Ph.D. awarded
Azariah Thomas Lincoln receives the first doctorate in chemistry at UW-Madison under the supervision of Professor Louis Kahlenberg.
1895: The first renaissance
Louis Kahlenberg, who joined the faculty in 1895 and later served as chair, becomes the first professor to develop a visible and ongoing research program.
1880-1907: William W. Daniells is department chair
Professor William W. Daniells, who held classes in the basement of Bascom Hall, becomes the first department chair in 1880
1880: Chemistry Department Established
The department was officially established in 1880 and was chaired by Professor William Willard Daniells. UW-Madison as a whole saw a growing emphasis on science during this era, under the leadership of university president John Bascom.
1854: Lathrop teaches the first chemistry class
The first chemistry courses, taught by S. Pearl Lathrop, meets in North Hall. As an instructor, Lathrop seeks “to expand the mind, moralize the heart … and to prepare youth for public as well as private action.”
In 1854, S. Pearl Lathrop taught the first chemistry course in the newly constructed North Hall, just off the shores of Lake Mendota on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
The department was officially established in 1880 and was chaired by Professor William Willard Daniells, who held classes in the basement of Bascom Hall. UW-Madison as a whole saw a growing emphasis on science during this era, under the leadership of university president John Bascom.
In the early twentieth century, the department saw major growth in undergraduate enrollment, graduate education, and the faculty. Student chemistry research began to flourish.
Student involvement also grew, and nine UW-Madison students founded Alpha Chi Sigma (AXΣ), a professional chemistry fraternity, during this era. The organization still thrives on campus today and now boasts more than 50 chapters nationwide.
Professor Louis Kahlenberg (B.S. 1892, M.S. 1893), who joined the faculty in 1895, served as department chair from 1907-19, and is credited with initiating the first renaissance within UW-Madison chemistry. Following graduate studies in physical chemistry at the University of Leipzig (Germany), Kahlenberg returned to UW-Madison and became the first chemistry professor to develop a visible and ongoing research program.
After Kahlenberg, Professor J. Howard Mathews was named chair. He held the position for 33 years and oversaw the department’s second renaissance as it grew into what his successors would later call a “great department.”
In addition to recruiting talented faculty, Mathews aimed to have his faculty explore new areas of chemistry. One such area was colloid systems, and the department hosted Swedish chemist Theodor “The” Svedberg, a leading experimentalist in the field, in 1923. While Svedberg was at UW-Madison, he conceived the ultracentrifuge, which assisted in scientific projects that ranged from the development of the plastics industry to the purification of gamma globulin. In 1937, UW-Madison became home to the second ultracentrifuge in the U.S., the first in a university setting.
That same year, renowned chemist Professor Joseph Hirschfelder, the founder of modern theoretical chemistry, joined the faculty. Once established in the department, Hirschfelder founded the Theoretical Chemistry Institute. The Institute now awards the internationally recognized Hirschfelder Prize in his honor. Hirschfelder was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford.
The Chemistry Instrument Center was established in the 1920s under the direction of Professor Villiers Meloche. The center grew over the decades, with Professor Paul Bender taking over in the late 1950s. As director, he opened access to the center’s sophisticated analytical instruments to other scientists and established classes that taught students to use the instruments. In 1993, the center was named in Bender’s honor, in recognition of his role in creating a premier center that continues to provide exceptional access to world-class NMR, ESR, mass spectrometry, and X-ray crystallography instruments, services, and instruction.
In 1960, Professor Howard Zimmerman joined the department; he is regarded as a pioneer in the field of mechanistic organic photochemistry.
The department has hosted dozens of visiting scholars from around the world. In 1962, Professor Harlan Goering established a program for visiting organic chemists and since 1999, the visiting professorship has been named in his honor.
The Institute for Chemical Education (ICE) was founded in 1983, in an effort to help science educators develop and share their ideas. The Wisconsin Institute for Science Literacy (WISL) outreach program soon followed and aims to promote understanding of science, math, and technology among the public.
Before moving to its current location at the heart of campus on University Ave. at Mills Street in 1962, the department made its home in Chamberlain Hall, Science Hall, Old Science Hall, Bascom Hall, South Hall, and of course, S. Pearl Lathrop’s lab in North Hall.
Entering the twenty-first century, the department expanded into the Shain Research Tower, named for Professor Irving Shain, who served as a faculty member, department chair, and chancellor of the university. The Shain Tower joined two older buildings, the Mathews Building, named for Professor J. Howard Mathews, opened in 1962, and the Daniels Building, named for Professor Farrington Daniels, opened in 1965.
Today, the Department of Chemistry is known for its outstanding teaching, research, and outreach programs as well as its collegial and collaborative atmosphere. Whereas research in the department once fell neatly into the four traditional areas of chemistry, today’s chemistry students work on research projects that transcend traditional divisions. They collaborate with researchers in other groups, departments, campuses, and with researchers in industry. These collaborations have led the department to offer new areas of study, including chemical biology and materials chemistry.