The Chemical History of UCL

We thought that, at the turn of the century, we should take this opportunity of a retrospective look at the history of the Department over its 172 years of existence.

The following pages are based on the Millennial Lecture given by Prof Alwyn Davies FRS before the Lab Dinner 2000 and should be read in conjunction with our Periodic Table of the Lecturers. We apologize for the quality of some of the images. We hope to improve them with time.

We welcome contributions, suggestions, additional photos etc. Send them by email to the WebMaster or post them to The Archivist, Dept of Chemistry, UCL, 20 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AJ.

1826 The Beginning

Jeremy Bentham

The story begins in 1826, and the hero of the time is Jeremy Bentham, the substantial figure shown to the left. He was a philosopher and educationalist and reformer, and he was of the opinion that University education in England at that time was in a sorry state. 

There were only two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge, and to graduate at either you had to be a member of the Church of England. If you were Jewish or Catholic or Nonconformist or whatever, you could not get a degree in England, and you had to go to mainland Europe, or to Scotland, which was educationally more advanced. Also Oxford and Cambridge were strong in mathematics, theology, and classics, but they had no departments in natural sciences and none in modern languages.

Bentham and his followers therefore set out to found a new university with two guiding principles: it would ask no questions about religion on entry, and it would introduce modern studies. This would be the first new University in England for 400 years, and was to become University College.

The foundation of the college is encapsulated in the College Song, shown on the next page.

The College Song

The UCL Chemistry College Song

(AIR: John Brown's Body)

In A.D. eighteen twenty-six, a hundred years ago, 
Our London was a wilderness, as probably you know,  
And where the Gardener's mansion stands the weeds were wont to grow  
A hundred years ago.

Weeds were growing where the Coll. is,  
Weeds were growing where the Coll. is,  
Weeds were growing where the Coll. is,  
A hundred years ago.

The Jeremiah Bentham (call him Jeremy for short)  
Deliberated long and then decided that he ought  
to found a little College where good learning might be taught,  
A hundred years ago.

Thought he'd found a home of learning,  
A hundred years ago.

Then in the weedy wilderness a noble structure grew,  
The Architect, Bill Wilkins, and the artist Flaxman too 
Combined to make the College what it is to me and you,  
A hundred years ago.

Jeremiah built the College, 
A Hundred years ago.

Then, lying on his deathbed, Jeremiah made a will:  
Said he "Preserve my body with the utmost of your skill,  
And place me in the library that all may see me still,  
A hundred years from now."

Though his life is long departed,  
His body's with us still.

They set him in a cupboard in the Science Libraree:  
They dressed him in the clothes he wore that future folk might see  
Just what the beau ideal of an Englishman should be,  
A hundred years from now.

Just to show us what we should be,  
A hundred years from now.

[We hope to have a recording of this song, together with a special updated and entirely scurrilous version written specially for this lecture, available for download at a later date.] 

The Autoicon

Jeremy Bentham sitting in the UCL cloisters

I know that you would all like to sing it, but there really is not time. Let's look first at the last two verses.

Bentham was an eccentric: "Then lying on his deathbed, Jeremiah made a will, said he, preserve my body with the utmost of your skill, and put me in the library, that folks may see me still, a hundred years from now....

 "so they sat him in a cupboard in the Science Libraree, they dressed him the clothes he wore that future folks might see, just what the beau ideal of an Englishman should be, a hundred years from now".

And of course, they did just that. Here is he as we now know him, sitting the South Cloisters, providing a model for future generations of students. At the centenary and sesquicentenary of the college, he was brought out to the College Committee meeting. He sat at one end of the table, the Provost at the other, and the minutes record 'Jeremiah Bentham, present but not voting'.

The Building

UCL College at the time of its construction

To get back to the building of the college. The painting shows the architect, William Wilkins, showing the plans of the building, to Jeremy Bentham, (the man in the hat) and the other founders. Behind them is the portico, still surrounded by scaffolding.

Two years later, Wilkins designed the National gallery in Trafalgar Square, and I think we got much the better dome.

The part of the college initially built is shown in the engraving below. This comprised the portico and dome, and the cloister wings on either side.

There were plans for the North and South wings, but the funds ran out and these were not added till much later. The College was opened in 1828. There was no religious bar to entry, it had no faculty of theology, and became known as the Godless College. And it set up the first departments in England of subjects such as modern languages, geology, zoology, and of course chemistry. 

The First Location

Plans for the original college building

The room to the west (bottom left) is called the Professor's Room, the small rectangular room is the Professor's Laboratory, and next to it is the semicircular lecture theatre. There was no accommodation for undergraduate practical work: that did not come until the separate rectangular building was set up to the east of the theatre. That theatre was in use until 1913, and is shown below.

The room to the west (bottom left) is called the Professor's Room, the small rectangular room is the Professor's Laboratory, and next to it is the semicircular lecture theatre. There was no accommodation for undergraduate practical work: that did not come until the separate rectangular building was set up to the east of the theatre. That theatre was in use until 1913, and is shown below.

The theatre

1828 Edward Turner

Turner the first Head of the UCL Chemistry Department

So we have a College established, and within it a Chemistry Department, and now we need a Professor. 

We invited Michael Faraday who was at the Royal Institution, but he wrote a long letter in reply saying that he thought he had to stay there two or three more years to repay the debt that he owed them, and the man we appointed was Edward Turner from Edinburgh; our first four Heads of Department, up to 1913, were from Scotland where there were already thriving chemistry departments.

Turner was only 29 when he was appointed. He thought that there was too much hypothesis and too little established fact in chemistry, and he set about establishing analytical methods by which atomic weights could be determined. The slide shows Turner's figures from 1833 and the IUPAC values which are presently accepted, and the agreement is remarkable (see comparison with modern values below). There was at the time a hypothesis (Prout's hypothesis) that all atomic weights were multiples of that of hydrogen, and if the atomic weight of hydrogen was one, then all the others should be integral numbers. Turner was sure of his figures for, for example, chlorine and he proclaimed that "Dr. Prout's hypothesis cannot be upheld".

Turner wrote two books, "The Laws of Chemical Combinations", and, in 1827, the first organic text book, "Elements of Chemistry" and which went to 8 editions with Liebig as editor and gained a European reputation. The frontispiece of the 5th edition, published while he was Professor at UCL in 1834 is shown below (courtesy of Prof Peter Garratt). 

Principles of Chemistry
Cover of Turner's book


An engraving of UCL Chemistry Students sitting an exam

With the college established, and teaching started, the inevitable first examinations were held. The most obvious thing about the picture is that all the students are men. Women were not admitted until the 1860's, and then only under conditions which ensured complete segregation. They came and left through a separate gate, they attended separate lectures from the men, and, to cap it all, the men's lectures started on the hour, and the women's on the half hour, to ensure that they never met. It was not until 1871 that men and women were allowed to attend the same lectures, first in the Slade school, and then in the late 1870's in the other departments.

Examination Papers

The examination paper in chemistry for 1830 is shown below. Candidates apparently had to answer all 26 questions, which range from physics to biology. The first page is mainly physics, but there is some physical chemistry at the bottom. The second page includes some questions which would not be easy for today's students. "What is the taste of white arsenic?". Then comes some organic chemistry, and finally some biochemistry: "What are the principles of vinous fermentation?"

Exam paper 1 Exam paper 2 Exam paper 3

Turner died young, aged only 38. He was popular with the students, and the bust which we saw in a earlier page was given to the Department by the students. It is mounted in our Undergraduate laboratory, the Turner Lab.

1836 Thomas Graham

Thomas Graham

Turner was followed as Head of Department in 1836 by Thomas Graham. He was the founding president of the Chemical Society (now the RSC), and its headquarters in Cambridge (Thomaes Graham House) are named after him.

He was a mainly a physical chemist, and he spent a lifetime's work on the study of molecular motion: initially in gases (Graham's law of effusion), then between gases and liquids, and then between gases and solids.

A summary of Graham's work

Some of this later work was carried out when he had left University College and become Master of the Royal Mint. In his work on coinage metals, he became interested in the fact that some metals, such as iron and nickel and particularly palladium would absorb large volume of hydrogen. Palladium will absorb 650 times its volume of hydrogen; this of course was the beginning of the story of cold fusion.

Graham regarded this solid solution as an alloy of the volatile metal hydrogen, its volatility being restrained by the involatile metal palladium, and he had a medal struck of a solution of hydrogen in palladium, and presented it to Sir John Herschel who was his predecessor as Master of the Mint. 

The Birkbeck Laboratory

George Birkbeck

With grant a from George Birkbeck (shown above, after whom another University of London college is named), Graham was responsible for the construction of the first laboratory designed for undergraduate practical work, the Birkbeck Laboratory, which is shown below.

Plan 1845Birkbeck Lab

Again, of course, in 1845, all the students are men. You will see in the image of the Birkbeck lab above that some of them are wearing top hats; presumably these are the demonstrators. Attempts to get demonstrators to wear hats of any description have, in recent years, failed.

Graham was followed in 1855 by Alexander Williamson from Edinburgh, another Scot. Together with Wurtz and Hoffmann, he integrated the isolated discoveries of organic chemistry into a coherent whole. His work is illustrated in the next page. 

1855 A Williamson

A Williamson

Williamson, by his ether synthesis, showed that mixed ethers, with two different alkyl groups, could be prepared.

Bonding in organic compounds at that time was thought to be of either the water type, as in alcohols, ROH, or of the radical type, as in ethers which would be given the formula RO.

But Williamson, by his ether synthesis, showed that mixed ethers, with two different alkyl groups, could be prepared. Ethers thus has to have the water-type formula ROR', and oxygen had the equivalent weight of 8 but the atomic weight of 16. By this type of argument he established and rationalised the structures of many of the families of simple organic compounds. Thus, in 1850 he predicted the existence of acetic anhydride, which was prepared in 1851.

We still have some examples of his early apparatus, and his copper pelicans, in which he prepared ether, are shown below. When you realise the scale on which these reactions were carried out, and the fact that the pelican was heated over a charcoal brazier, it is remarkable that we do not seem to have records of catastrophic accidents taking place.


Later on Williamson, again with people such as Liebig, was responsible for the introduction of much of the glassware which we are familiar with today, except that it was usually fitted together with corks rather than ground glass joints. Standard joints, blown in a mould, as we know them today did not come into use until the middle of the last (20 th ) century.

Towards the end of his period as Head of Department, Williamson became very much involved in College and University politics, and his research suffered. This was the period when the other London colleges - Kings, Birkbeck, Queen Mary, what is now Imperial College, and so on were combined into a federal university, and presumably Williamson felt the need to fight the University College corner. 

Chemical Physical Society

In 1876, the Chemical and Physical Society was established, with Oliver Lodge as the first President. In that first year there were 41 paying members and 7 honorary members; it held 17 meetings, with an average attendance of 15. It is of course still going strong, and can claim to be the oldest student scientific society in England.

[We would welcome any suggestions or volunteers to write a History of ChemPhysSoc] 

1881 New Lab

1881 Plan of the new Chemistry Laboratory at UCL

In 1881, the North and South wings of the college, which were on the original plans, were at last built, and Chemistry moved into accommodation in the North Wing, which now houses the Slade School.

The teaching laboratory is shown as an engraving and as a photograph below. The engraving makes it look more like a cathedral than a laboratory. The students called the alcoves in which they worked, "horse-boxes".

In 1881, the North and South wings of the college, which were on the original plans, were at last built, and Chemistry moved into accommodation in the North Wing, which now houses the Slade School.The teaching laboratory is shown as an engraving and as a photograph below. The engraving makes it look more like a cathedral than a laboratory. The students called the alcoves in which they worked, "horse-boxes".

Etching of Teaching Laboratory
Etching of Teaching Laboratory
Photograph of Teaching Laboratory
Photograph of the Teaching Laboratory
A picture of the horse boxes
Another view of the horseboxes.

1887 Sir William Ramsay

Sir William Ramsay

In 1887, Williamson was succeeded as Head of Department by Ramsay, another Scotsman, from Glasgow.

Ramsay was an outstanbding experimentalist. He rolled his own cigarettes, claiming that machine-made ones were unworthy of an experimentalist. He kept a platinum spatula on his watch chain for poking his students' precipitates, and he modestly ascribed his success in isolating the rare gases to his large flat thumb which could close the end of eudiometer tubes full of mercury. In 6 years he added a whole new group to the Periodic Table, and it makes a fascinating story. There is a plaque set into the wall of what is now a studio in the Slade building saying 'Here in this room in 1894, Sir William Ramsay KCBE, FRS, discovered...' 

The Discovery of Argon

Argon Apparatus
A picture of the Argon Apparatus taken from his notebooks. You may want to compare this with that in his book 'The Gases of the Atmosphere' on the next page.  

On April 19th 1894 Ramsay heard Lord Rayleigh lecture to the Royal Society, when he pointed out that nitrogen isolated from the air had a density slightly higher than that of nitrogen prepared from chemical sources. A litre of pure nitrogen gas generated from a chemical reaction weighed 1.2505 g. On the other hand, a litre of nitrogen gas generated from air by removing oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour weighed 1.2572 g (at the same temperature and pressure). Rayleigh thought that this might be due to the presence of a light impurity in the former (Rayleigh's paper is available online ).
But Ramsay thought that it might be due to the presence of a heavy impurity in the 'atmospheric' nitrogen. He was an enthusiast for the Newland/Mendeleev Periodic Table and we have Mendeleev's signature in one of our books of visitors. He thought that there might be an unrecognised new element hiding in the air, and that there might be room for this in a new Group at the end of the Periodic Table. When examinations had finished, Ramsay set about attempting to isolate this 'impurity'.

Periodic Table
The Periodic Table before Ramsay's discovery.

Ramsay's Apparatus for Isolating Argon

Ramsay repeatedly passed nitrogen from the air over red hot magnesium, which reacted to form magnesium nitride, and as the volume decreased, the density rose. 22 Litres of the gas with a density of 14 were reduced to 1.5 l with a density of 16.1, and then finally to a residual 290 cm 3 with a density of 16.1 and then to 290 cm 3 with a density of 19.95, and which would no longer react with magnesium. Measurement of the specific heat showed it to be monatomic, and therefore the atomic weight was 39.9, and it fitted into the Periodic Table between chlorine and potassium as the first member of a new Group. With the advice of a colleague from the Classics Department, he called this gas argon, after the name argon given in the Greek Old Testament to describe 'the workers who stand idle in the market place'.

A diagram of Ramsay's apparatus for the isolation of argonArgon IsolationRamsay's Letter to Rayleigh

On August 4th he wrote to Rayleigh: 'I have isolated the gas; Its density is 19.4, and it is not absorbed by magnesium...'. These experiments were later described by Lord Rayleigh in an informal but fascinating evening lecture . Ramsay's paper on the discovery is also available online .

(We are grateful to Prof Carmen Giunta for putting the above papers online). 

The Discovery of Neon and Other Gases

In 1895, Henry Meirs, at the British Museum, told Ramsay that, on heating, a mineral cléveite gave off a gas that Meirs though might be nitrogen. Ramsay thought that it might be a compound of argon. He sent out his technician to a minerals dealer for a specimen of cléveite and, in two days, he showed that it was a new inert gas, helium, the spectrum of which Sir William Crookes had observed from the light of the sun in 1868. With an atomic weight of 4, it fits between hydrogen and lithium, in the same group as argon.

They were now faced with an almost insuperable problem: they have found the first and the third member of the Group, and now need to find the intermediate member, and Ramsay says: "Here is a supposed gas, endowed no doubt with inert properties, and the whole world to find it in". After 2 years, he decided that it might be hiding in the atmosphere. At the Royal Institution in Piccadilly, Dewar had liquefied air in 1872. Ramsay and his student, Maurice Travers , cooled bulbs of argon in liquid air, and separated off the uncondensed portion. Under an electrical discharge it gave blaze of crimson light, and they called it Neon, the newcomer.

Neon Apparatus Rare Gases A drawing of the Whitlaw-Gray balance
Ramsay's Apparatus of the Isolation of Neon   A drawing of the Whitlaw-Gray balance

In 1898, they cooled the crude neon with liquid hydrogen and isolated the forth and fifth members of the series, Krypton (the hidden one), and Xenon (the stranger) which was present in air to the extent of 1 in 108 .

We have many of Ramsay's original gas tubes and a direct vision spectrometer which he used to observe the discharge which they gave, and these tubes will still show their discharge with a Tesla coil. We hope to include photos of these at some later stage.

Rutherford had shown that thorium gave what he called an "emanation". In 1900, Ramsay and Soddy showed that this was the sixth rare gas, Radon. Whytlaw Gray determined the density on a volume of gas of 3.2 x10 -8 cm3 !! We still have fragments of the silica frame of the balance.

Ramsay's Nobel Prize

In 1904, Ramsay was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 'for his discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air, and his determination of their place in the Periodic system'.

As a result Ramsay became a considerable celebrity in London and was cartooned both by Spy for Vanity Fair (reproduced elsewhere) and by Henry Tonks, Head of UCL's Slade School of Art.

We also have his medals and decorations, including the Nobel Medal, which we kept in the safe as we thought it was solid gold - until we read that he had his gold medals melted down and the proceeds given to charity, and what we had were the duplicates that he had made.

Ramsay's Nobel Medal The reverse of Ramsay's Nobel Medal.

Ramsay was also an accomplished pianist, composer, and poet. Here is a copy of letter from Rudyard Kipling, where Kipling thanks him for a march tune that Ramsay has composed to which Kipling hopes to write the words. Look at the date: it is 13 August, 1914, 10 days after Germany crossed the border into Belgium, and 9 days after Britain had declared war on Germany.

Letter to Ramsay from Rudyard Kipling

Ramsay Nobel Prize Cartoon by Henry Tonks

In 1904, Ramsay was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 'for his discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air, and his determination of their place in the Periodic system'.

A cartoon by Sir Henry Tonks shows Sir William Ramsay reading that he has won the 1904 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Ramsay cartoon

The Death Knell of an Atom

In those pre-television days, people made their own entertainment, and we have many songs and poems in the archives about the affairs of chemistry and of the department of those days. Most of these were performed at the Lab Dinner. I will offer you only two, both by Ramsay.

The first is dated 1902, when radioactivity, discovered by Becquerel and the Curies between 1885 and 1900 was the hot topic of the day.

The Death Knell of the Atom

Old time is a-flying; the atoms are dying; 
Come, list to their parting oration:- 
"We'll soon disappear to a heavenly sphere 
"On account of our disintegration,

"Our action's spontaneous in atoms uranious 
"Or radious, actinious , or thorious; 
"While for others the gleam of a heaven-sent beam 
"Must encourage our efforts laborious.

"For many a day we've been slipping away 
"While the savants still dozed in their slumbers; 
"Till at last came a man with gold-leaf and tin can, 
"And detected our infinite numbers."

So the atoms, in turn, we now clearly discern, 
Fly to bits with the utmost facility; 
They wend on their way, and in splitting, display 
An absolute lack of stability.

'Tis clear they should halt on the grave of old Dalton 
On their way to celestial spheres; 
And a few thousand million - let's say a quadrillion - 
Should bedew it with reverent tears.

There's nothing facetious in the way that Lucretius 
Imagined the chaos to quiver; 
And electrons to blunder, together, asunder, 
In building up atoms for ever.

William Ramsay, 1902

J Norman Collie's Appointment

The second poem was composed and sung by Ramsay at the Lab Dinner to note the appointment to a Chair of Norman Collie, who ultimately was to become his successor. As you will see, Collie was a bachelor, and came to the Department from Cheltenham Ladies College.

Song, written and sung by William Ramsay at the Lab Dinner

When first I came to London town as Williamson's successor 
And donned his figurative gown as chemical Professor, 
With Plimpton who, with Rideal too, I felt uncommon Jolly, 
And in my mind I had in view our friend J. Norman Collie .

In Cheltenham his mission lay to train the girls in science, 
And demonstrate to them each day some chemical appliance. 
But weariness on him depressed, and deepest melancholy, 
Right glad he was to come to us, our friend J. Norman Collie .

And now the pharmaceutical has made him his professor, 
He's found a chair and settled there, it undisturbed possessor. 
And now he's only got to wed some Sally, Jane or Polly. 
Come fill a bumper, drink a health: our friend J. Norman Collie .

1913 Norman Collie

Ramsay retired in 1913 to be succeeded by Norman Collie. The Department now moved to a new building in Gower Place which was used a military hospital in the 1914-1918 war. Its location is shown on the plan below:

Plans Gower Place Labs Ramsay & Forster lab
The location of the Ramsay and Forster Laboratories in Gower Place. The New Labs in Gower Place. The Main entrance to the Ramsay and Forster Labs. The building, now renamed after Kathleen Lonsdale, houses Geology and the Computer Centre. 
Norman Collie

Collie was a man of many accomplishments, and is known as much for being a mountaineer as for being a chemist. To quote C R Bailey's speech at the 1966 Lab Dinner: 'He climbed most of the peaks in the Rockies and named half of them. He was beautiful water colourist, a first class fisherman, a jolly good shot, an international expert on china, and had the best poor man's collection in England'. 

His scientific achievements included two notable firsts. He was the first in the UK to use X-rays for medical purposes, and the picture shows two aspects of a woman's thumb with a needle stuck in it. 

The second, more dubious, achievement was the first use of neon discharge tubes for display purposes.

X-ray photos of the finger with a needle in it
X-ray photographs of a needle stuck in a nurse's finger.

1928 Frederick Donnan

Collie was succeeded in 1928 by Frederick Donnan. After Graham's day, physical chemistry had been largely lost to mainland Europe, and Donnan was instrumental in restoring Britain's place in physical chemistry. He is best known for the Donnan equilibrium which refers to the diffusion of ions across a membrane in the presence of a non-diffusible ion.

Sir F. DonnanDonna Membrane Equilibrium

He had a heavy political clout. He worked closely with the chemical industry, and as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society he worked to bring over many Jewish refugees from Germany before the 1939-1945 war. Many of these spent a short period at University College before moving on to more permanent posts; two of these were Freundlich, of surface chemistry fame, and Edward Teller, later to be one of the fathers of the atomic bomb. 

1937 Sir Christopher Ingold

Sir C. Ingold

In 1937, Christopher Kelk Ingold followed Donnan as Head of Department. Ingold's work was based on the principle that, as all bonding is electronic in origin (a covalent bond resulting from the sharing of a pair of electrons), all chemical reactions, which involve the breaking and formation of bonds, must therefore be electronic reactions. Any theory of chemical reactions must therefore be, basically, an electronic theory: we need to understand the principles which govern the rest position of electrons in molecules in their grounds state, and then the way in which they move when reactions occur.

The nomenclature that he introduced, which now is a part of the everyday day fabric of chemistry, is shown in the next slide. The two most familiar systems which he elucidated are those of aliphatic nucleophilic substitution and of electrophilic aromatic substitution.

Ingold's work

Ingold's work

Ingold did much of his work in collaboration with E.D. Hughes, a Welshman whose father really did know Lloyd George. Whereas Ingold operated at a level of cerebration which students could only aspire to, Ted Hughes was very down to earth. At Aberystwyth he objected to the verdict of a weighing machine on the prom and had to be dissuaded by a local constable from tipping it into the sea. And at Bangor, when Don Llewellyn played soccer for Bangor City, Ted dribbled his waste paper basket round his office to show him how it should be done. He always kept quiet about he fact that he ran a string of racing greyhounds, and was regularly given a racing calendar at the Department's Christmas party.

During the war, the Department was evacuated to Aberystwyth in Wales, which imposed a large Department on a small one. There is a story (from Jim Millen) illustrating Ingold's concentration of chemistry to the exclusion of other distractions. He did his duty of overnight fire watching at the chemistry department, and his wife Hilda acted as the departmental secretary. He was walking home after an overnight stint, thinking of aromatic nitration, as she was walking into the department. She said 'Good morning, Professor Ingold'. He replied politely 'Good morning madan', raising his head, not appreciating who he had spoken to. 

The Ingold/Hughes Cartoons

In 1944, the Department returned to London, and in 1947 (?) Hughes rejoined Ingold from Bangor. There was a talented cartoonist, John Mackie, in the Department at the time, and the event is recorded in one of Mackie's drawings. Others illustrated mesomerism and steric hindrance, and one, drawn on the occasion of the award of the Chemical Society's Longstaff medal. shows the leading members of the Department at that time.

cartoon1 Mesomerism cartoon The latest triumph cartoon Steric Hindrance cartoon
'Together again' 'Mesomerism' 'The latest triumph' 'Steric Hindrance'

1961 Edward Hughes

E. Hughes

Ingold retired in 1961 and was followed by Hughes. Hughes, however, died the following year, and Ron Nyholm became Head of the Department in 1963.

At the end of the 1939-1945 war we had a invasion of Australians and New Zealanders, led by Alan Maccoll, who had come here on the recommendation of Tommy Iredale who had been in the Department before the war. This had an autocatalytic effect, and at one time, the annual Departmental cricket match was run on the basis of Australia versus The Rest. The team list reads as hall of fame of Antipodean Chemistry: Alan MaccollDavid CraigPeter de la Mare, Brian England, Ian Ross, Dick Bramley, Ron NyholmBrian Figgis ...though some were better at tennis.

The Ingold Labs

The present laboratory in Gordon Street was intended as the first phase of a more extensive rebuilding, but the academic and financial climate changed. Part of the Department moved across in 1969, and for some years we operated on two sites as shown on the diagram below which shows the location of the 'New Chemistry' relative to the older building.

A picture of the Ingold Labs in 200?
The new building was opened by Sir Christopher Ingold himself.  After some internal conversions and the addition of the new top floor, the Department was consolidated into he present building in the late 1970's. It is sometimes hard to believe that this building came second in the London Borough of Camden's "Best Building of 1970" list. One has to wonder about the other contenders......
Christopher Ingold opening the new chemistry building
Present Day Chemistry labs at UCL
Present Day Chemistry labs at UCL

 And the internal conversions have continued steadily over the years.....

The Finale

Modern text books always finish each chapter with a list of things you should have learned. My list is shown below:

1828 Edward Turner
1836 Thomas Graham
1855 Alexander Williamson
1887 Sir William Ramsay
1913 Norman Collie
1928 Frederick Donnan
1937 Sir Christopher Ingold
1961 Edward Hughes
1963 Sir Ronald Nyholm
1971 Alwyn Davies
1974 Max McGlashan
1989 Robin Clark
1999 David Williams

There is one interesting point about the list that may strike you. The first four on the list are all Scotsmen, but we saw a good reason for that. The last three however are all New Zealanders, which is less easy to understand. The only reason that I can offer is a remark, perhaps not completely serious, given by the Provost (Sir Derek Roberts) at the meeting at which David Williams was appointed. When all the business was settled, the Dean of Science asked, facetiously, whether there was any limit to the number of New Zealanders the College could appoint to the Chemistry Department. 'No', said the Provost, 'if we keep on looking we might find a good one'. Provosts usually do not have time for such pleasantries.

That list reads rather like a list of the kings of England; it is a convenient way in which to document history, but does not do justice to the many other people of the Department that we have not had time to recall. You will find many of them on our Periodic Table of the Lecturers . We would be delighted and grateful for any reminiscences and stories you might like to add to either this history or to the PTL. Send comments by email to The WebMaster