von Peter Chen,
Professor für Physikalisch-Organische Chemie am D-CHEM, heute D-CHAB
The Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, D-CHAB, has a long and proud history at the ETH, beginning as one of the original 6 Abteilungen at the ETH’s founding in 1855. Throughout its history, and continuing into the present, D-CHAB has pursued scientific, structural, and institutional innovation with the consistent emphasis on enhancing the quality of teaching and research. In research, highlights include the first Ph.D. awarded at the ETH — to Jean-Felix Piccard on 1 December 1909 for the dissertation, Über Konstitution und Farbe der Chinonimine — as well as the 10 Nobel Prize winners (of the total 32 individual laureates associated with Switzerland) who are former or current members of D-CHAB or its antecedent organizational units. The former example exemplifies not only the historically early emphasis on original research within D-CHAB, but also, through the choice of topic, the role of basic research in establishing the fundamentals of “real world” products and processes—for the dissertation above, in the dyestuff industry, which evolved into the present pharmaceutical giants of Swiss industry. In chemical education, D-CHAB has been a leader in crossing disciplinary boundaries. Chemistry was a major participant in the Interdisciplinary Natural Sciences, a.k.a Chemical Physics, program since the 1950’s, one of the first of its kind worldwide. The department is the first in Europe to offer a formal, coherent block of courses in Biological Chemistry, obligatory for all chemistry students since the 1960’s. The trend culminated in 2000 with the merger of the Department of Applied Biosciences with the Department of Chemistry to create the present D-CHAB. The current D-CHAB includes 38 professors as well as over 600 doctoral students, postdoctoral scientists, and staff. Attendance of D-CHAB lectures and lab courses by students in D-CHAB and other departments adds up to approximately 1000 in the span of a semester. The large faculty and student numbers underline not only D-CHAB’s core function as a center for Chemical Sciences, but also Chemistry’s role as a fundamental contributor to life sciences, material sciences, and nanotechnology.
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