University homepage In English
University of Helsinki Laboratory of Organic Chemistry
 

Laboratory of Organic Chemistry

Laboratory Info:

Contact Information:

Laboratory of Organic Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
University of Helsinki
P.O. Box 55
FI-00014 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI

History

Laboratory of Organic Chemistry, University of Helsinki

The chair of organic chemistry of the University of Helsinki carries the distinction of being the first chemistry professorship in the oldest university in Finland; the present holder is the tenth person to have been nominated for the post. P.A. Gadd and his eight successors have played a central role in the intervening years in Finnish science, industry and business.

The first university of Finland was founded in 1640 in Turku (the first laboratory building in in the Figure)..The natural sciences were, however, not very popular in those days and it was only in 1761 that a professorship for chemistry, "the mother of most and useful sciences", was established; roughly at the same time as also many famous universities got their first professors in chemistry. The first holder of the office in the Academy of Turku was Pehr Adrian Gadd (1727-1797, a drawing by J. T. Sergel in the Figure), who was also interested in mineralogy, promotion of agriculture, and economics.

Three years later the inauguration of the Laboratory of Chemistry was celebrated but it was the next professor, Johan Gadolin, who first included laboratory studies in the undergraduate chemical curriculum. The element gadolinium has been named after him because his work led to the discovery of a large group of elements, the rare earths. In 1908 a second professorship of chemistry (physical chemistry) was created, followed by inorganic chemistry in the thirties. Biochemistry has been a separate branch since the forties. In the beginning of the sixties the professorship of radiochemistry and of the wood and polymer chemistry were established, and finally, analytical chemistry got the professorship in the seventies.

Three years later the inauguration of the Laboratory of Chemistry was celebrated but it was the next professor, Johan Gadolin, who first included laboratory studies in the undergraduate chemical curriculum. The element gadolinium has been named after him because his work led to the discovery of a large group of elements, the rare earths. In 1908 a second professorship of chemistry (physical chemistry) was created, followed by inorganic chemistry in the thirties. Biochemistry has been a separate branch since the forties. In the beginning of the sixties the professorship of radiochemistry and of the wood and polymer chemistry were established, and finally, analytical chemistry got the professorship in the seventies.

The Academy of Turku got a new building in 1817, and more room was then available for the chemical laboratory. At the time of Pehr Adolf von Bonsdorff, successor of Gadolin, a great fire raged in the city of Turku, destroying the laboratory of chemistry among others. Finland was after the War 1808-09 separated from Sweden and incorporated into Russia as a Grand Duchy, Helsinki becoming the capital of the country. The university was transferred from Turku to Helsinki as well,and no laboratories were rebuilt in Turku after the fire.

In Helsinki chemistry had ill-suited facilities at first. The main university building was completed in 1832, and the institute of chemistry stayed on the ground floor of this building for 15 years. The professors and personnel in the other disciplines did not approve of the stench caused by the chemical experiments, so chemistry had to move. The next professor, Adolf Edward Arppe, also rector of the university, succeeded in getting a new building, called Arppeanum, for the institute (1869). Arppe had been previously working in Germany, where Friedrich Wöhler had converted him from a mineral chemist to an organic chemist. He also worked with Justes v. Liebig and visited several other European countries.

The successor to Arppe, Johan Jacob Chydenius, had previously worked in Paris in the laboratory of Wars, and he introduced the structural theory of Kekulé to chemistry teaching at the undergraduate level. He was, however, compelled to retire because of illness at the age of only 44 years.

In 1882 Edvard Hjelt was nominated to professor at the early age of 27 years. He was the first chemistry professor to be wholly devoted to organic chemistry in his research, and he introduced the requirement of an experimental study in the M.Sc.thesis. During his term the number of students increased to such an extent that a new building was needed. Completed in 1887, the new building housed the institute for the next 86 years. Undergraduate laboratory bench space increased from 60 to140. Hjelt acted as rector of the university during the difficult years of oppression when students were arrested and professors expelled. It has been said that he performed greater services to the university than anyone since its foundation. Hjelt was later appointed to a post nowadays corresponding to prime minister; in addition to that, he acted as the Finnish envoy to Germany.

In 1908 Ossian Aschan was appointed holder of the professorship. He published some 250 papers and in addition compiled handbooks and textbooks of which"Chemie der alicyclischen Verbindungen" of 1150 pages is considered to be the most important. At the time of Aschan's professorship Finland gained her independency in1917.

The auditorium at Arppeanum 1927. Lecturer N.J. Toivonen.

In 1928 Niilo Johannes Toivonen became the successor to Aschan, followed in 1958 by Pekka Hirsjärvi and 1984 by Tapio Hase. The present holder of the professorship, Kristiina Wähälä, was appointed in 2003.

Prof. N. J. Toivonen in 1952.

Prof. Eskola (at right) and her students.

The laboratory of organic chemistry along with inorganic and analytical chemistry moved to Vuorikatu 20 in 1973. After more than 20 years in these "temporary"premises there is now a new Chemistry Building in Kumpula (about 6 km to the north of city centre), housing the newly merged Departments of Chemistry, Polymer Chemistry and Radiochemistry.