Chemistry has been a key activity for the University since the foundation of University College, Bristol in 1876. The Letts Nitrile Synthesis was discovered by EA Letts shortly before he became one of the first Professors of Chemistry at Bristol in 1876.
Sir William Ramsay, who received the Nobel Prize in 1904 for the discovery of the noble gases (argon, neon, krypton and xenon), was Professor of Chemistry at Bristol from 1880 to 1887.
The pre-eminence of Bristol in the field of surface and colloid science began with the work of James W McBain who postulated the existence of micelles in 1913. It was further reinforced under the leadership of Douglas H Everett. As well as making major contributions to the study of thermodynamics, in the Second World War, Everett was involved with the Special Operations Executive and wrote a book on this with Fredric Boyce: SOE: The Scientific Secrets (2003). Colloidal and polymer science continues to be both an academic and commercial strength in the School of Chemistry. Environmentally friendly chewing gum developed from polymer science carried out at Bristol through a spin-out company, Revolymer, founded by Professor Terence Cosgrove is one of the latest developments in this field.
Under the leadership of Professor Gordon Stone, Bristol was a leading player in the revival of inorganic chemistry that took place in the 1960s and 70s. A thriving centre for inorganic synthesis was developed supported by excellent facilities and many highly talented researchers including Peter Timms, who invented metal atom vapour synthesis, and Judith Howard (now Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Durham).
Further discoveries central to our knowledge of inorganic chemistry were made in the 1980s and 90s including Professors Guy Orpen and Neil Connelly's definitive contribution to understanding bonding in metal-phosphine complexes. Professor Steve Mann, a world leader in biomimetic materials, joined the School of Chemistry in 1998. Even more recently, Professor Ian Manners, who has discovered and pioneered routes to new classes of metalloorganic polymer materials, was appointed to the a chair in Inorganic Chemistry in 2005. Manners, Mann and their colleagues in the Inorganic and Materials Chemistry Section, continue the tradition of world-leading inorganic chemistry research at Bristol.
The tradition of synthetic chemistry at Bristol was first defined by Sir Edmund Hirst who had worked with Haworth on the synthesis of vitamin C, was very prominent in research on carbohydrates. Hirst was followed as Professor of Organic Chemistry by Wilson Baker, a student of Lapworth and Robinson, who established a team of organic chemists including Sir Alan R. Battersby and W. David Ollis, which contributed widely to natural products and biological chemistry, heterocyclic chemistry, and non-benzenoid aromatics, e.g. biphenylene.
Synthetic organic chemistry, after a relatively quiet period in Bristol, began its renaissance with the appointment of Professor Tim Gallagher in 1993. By the 1990s, the need to update and provide additional laboratory facilities, such as many more fume hoods for synthetic chemistry, had become pressing. The Synthetic Chemistry Building (jointly designed by Professors Tim Gallagher and Neil Connelly) opened in 1999. This led to further, major expansion of synthetic organic chemistry and the appointments of Professors Aggarwal, Davis and Booker-Milburn around the turn of the millennium. The UK's Doctoral Training Centre for Synthetic Chemistry led by Professor Kevin Booker-Milburn makes extensive use of these world-class facilities.
Read more about the school's history.