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History of the Department

Old laboratory

The Faculty of Science of University of the Turin was created in 1848. Nothing relevant happened at the General Chemistry Gabinetto until the construction of the Institute which is still hosting the Department (initially the entrance was in Via Bidone, 36). The building of the scientific Institutes dates back to 1886, after a long search for the necessary funds, the Institute of Chemistry was delivered in 1894 but furnishings were completed and activities began in 1900. There could be no better start for the rectorship of Michele Fileti, who was a representative of Stanislao Cannizzaro's school and supervised the construction of well-advanced laboratories. Fileti held the chemistry chair in Turin from 1881 to 1914 working with a team of forefront collaborators and creating what was the first renowned chemistry school of the Institute (in_the Organic Chemistry area). Among his many students, the most famous was Luigi Casale, who developed an industrial system for the synthesis of ammonia which spread worldwide. Another relevant personality is that of Icilio
Guareschi, professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry from 1879 to 1918; this professorship belonged to the Faculty of Science until the Faculty of Pharmacy was created in 1932. Guareschi followed the beginnings and the publication of the first ten volumes of colossal Nuova Enciclopedia di chimica scientifica, tecnologica ed industriale (New Encyclopedia of scientific, technological and industrial chemistry), published by UTET. He was also an internationally renowned science historian and a man of great culture. The Library of the adjacent Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry is named after him, whereas the Library of the Chemistry Institute is named after Fileti's successor, Giacomo Ponzio, who had (with no great impulse, but with great academic and experimental determination) the class of General and Inorganic Chemistry from 1915 to 1941. The scene opened up significantly in 1942, when Antonio Nasini arrived. Nasini was a scholar with an articulate background (he was also assistant to Giulio Natta), who introduced macromolecular chemistry in Piedmont and opened to the international scientific community and to the world of industry. Immediately afterward, in 1948, Mario Milone obtained the first professorship of the newly created Physical Chemistry chair at the Institute. Milone studied under Ponzio but wisely chose a wider perspective: his studies abroad (with William Henry Bragg, among others) allowed him to bring advanced instrumental characterization techniques, such as X-ray structural chemistry, to Turin.


In the same year Michele Giua obtained the chair of Industrial Organic Chemistry. Giua had passed the selections in far 1922 but his socialistic and progressive political positions kept him aside from the academic life. In 1933 he refused to become a member of the National Fascist Party and had to leave the Institute. He was arrested two years later and spent the following eight years in prison. His thoughts and memoirs are found in Ricordi di un ex detenuto politico (Memoirs of a former political prisoner). Giua was a member
of The Consulta, of the Constitutional Assembly, and a senator for two legislatures. Of his vast editorial production we should mention Dizionario di Chimica generale e industriale (General and Industrial Chemistry Dictionary) and Trattato di Chimica Industriale (Industrial Chemistry Essay), published by UTET, and his deep studies on the history of Chemistry. The most renowned graduate from our Institute is undoubtedly Primo Levi who, in several of his literary works, and particularly in his Il Sistema Periodico (The Periodic Table), has brilliantly described students' life in the laboratory during the inglorious years of the racial laws. The Main Hall has recently been named after Primo Levi.

In the following years skills kept on increasing and so did the institutes, which reached the number of eight, then merged into three Departments in the second half of the 1980s (Analytical Chemistry Department; General and Organic Chemistry Department;  Inorganic, Physical and Materials Chemistry Department), and ending up into a global Chemistry Department in 2012.
Most of the information is taken from the work of Luigi Cerruti, heir of the passion and of the historical rigor of Guareschi, Selmi, Giua. Those readers who are interested in finding out more details may read the chapter “Chemistry” in La Facoltà di Scienze Matematiche Fisiche Naturali di Torino 1848-1998, Torino: Deputazione subalpina di storia patria, 1999, edited by Clara Silvia Roero, vol I, pp. 167-184.

Last update: 28/02/2020 20:42
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