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ETHistory 1855-2005 | Rückblicke | Departemente | CHAB Chemie | Institutional Development |

Institutional Development

The antecedent organizational units of D-CHAB, first the Chemisch-Technische Abteilung and the Abteilung für Pharmazie, date back to the founding of the ETH in 1855. The modern Department owes its high international standing to the historically consistent policy whereby the well-endowed professorships were filled with candidates for whom two characteristics stand out: (i) the professors were chosen internationally on the basis of their academic promise, independent of national origin, and (ii) the professors were, especially by European standards, extraordinarily young. To take the Institute of General Chemistry (presently Organic Chemistry) from 1855-1929 as a case study representative of the entire Department, the first 8 professors were all either German or Austrian, with an average age of 31 at the time of election to Ordinarius and an average tenure of slightly more than 8 years. This historical policy started as a matter of necessity because the ETH of that era stood on the edge of the German academic world, and typically could only appoint very young academics of high promise, who would then proceed onto chairs at more prestigious German universities after some years. The care with which the appointments of that era were made is demonstrated by the fact that, of the 4 professors appointed between 1893 and 1929, 3 received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work done largely at the ETH (R. Willstätter, R. Kuhn, H. Staudinger). The next two professors, Leopold Ruzicka and Vladimir Prelog, both also subsequent Nobel Laureates, were born in Vukovar and Sarajevo, respectively. In accord with the rising international prominence of Chemistry at the ETH, Ruzicka and Prelog stayed at the ETH for 28 and 25 years, respectively. Prelog was to play the decisive role in the formation of the modern Department. With material assistance from then-President Hans Pallmann (at the beginning of the 60’s), Prelog divided his Chair into seven equivalent Chairs, although his own retirement was still more than a decade away. At the same time, a Privatdozent, later Professor, from Prelog’s institute, Hans. H. Günthard, was tasked to build a Laboratory of Physical Chemistry on similar principles—six, later seven, equal professorships. The Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry and the Laboratory of Technical Chemistry were substantially reformed along similar lines in the next decade. The Department of Applied Biosciences was joined to Chemistry in 2003 with the same goal in mind. The importance and the revolutionary nature of the reform cannot be underestimated. An Institutsprofessor in the German-speaking academic world was the undisputed king of his institute. With Chemistry at the ETH joining the most exclusive club of internationally preeminent departments, Prelog’s position was unmatched in prestige and resources. In taking himself from Institutsprofessor to simply “Dorfältester,” he created the conditions for the continued preeminence of the Department. The explosive diversification of Chemistry in the 1960’s into all fields of molecular sciences, the strides in physical instrumentation and theory, and the increasingly interdisciplinary reach of Chemistry require breadth in a modern Department that can only come with a large faculty. One cannot recruit the best (young) talent worldwide, however, to positions that are inherently subordinate. By building a college of peers, Prelog made it possible for the ETH to bring in and retain the most promising candidates from the entire world. Chemistry made this transformation earlier than any other department at the ETH and years before similar moves take tentative hold in the rest of the German-speaking academic world. The post-Prelog generation of faculty, mostly elected to Full Professor close to or before the age of 40, come from Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Great Britain the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Russia. Not only is D-CHAB one of the largest departments among the leading departments in Europe, it is the only one which is truly international.

© 2005 ETH Zürich | Impressum | 17.12.2004 | !!! Dieses Dokument stammt aus dem ETH Web-Archiv und wird nicht mehr gepflegt !!!