Department of Chemistry History

Historic photo of a laboratory inside of Noyes Lab

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a rich history that can be traced back to the founding of the University in 1867, then known as the Illinois Industrial University. Chemistry was one of the first six departments listed in the original 1867 blueprint for the university's organization, and the first professor of chemistry was hired in 1868, around the same time Dmitri Mendeleev published his first version of the periodic table in 1869. 

Over its more-than 150-year history, the Department of Chemistry has expanded from a basement lab to four buildings, been the site of some of the most important chemical breakthroughs of the last century and has counted eleven Nobel Prize winners among its faculty, fellows, and alumni.

By 1893, a four-year BS degree program in Chemistry had been established, and the first PhD in Chemistry was awarded in 1903. By the 1920s, the department was one of the largest in the United States in terms of facilities, faculty, and degrees granted. By the end of the twentieth century, more than 3,400 doctoral degrees had been awarded, making the Department the premier PhD-producing chemistry program in the United States.

In 2017, the Department of Chemistry hosted, along with the School of Chemical Sciences and Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, a Sesquicentennial Celebration on Oct. 6-7, 2017.

Notable historic figures, stories