To the scientist, it is self-evident that major scientific advance depends upon the pioneering genius, that is, that it depends upon exploratory research in areas which have no immediately obvious practical value, carried out by people of outstanding and exceptional ability.

Louis P. Hammett, Columbia Chemistry graduate student and professor from 1920 – 1985

The development of chemistry in the United States is tied closely to the development of chemistry at Columbia University. The modern chemistry department at Columbia was founded in 1864 with Charles Fredrick Chandler at its helm. The photograph at the left, taken in the late 19th century, shows Chandler, (4th from the left), and some of the first chemistry graduate students at Columbia.

Since the department’s founding more than 150 years ago, Columbia chemistry faculty have produced breakthroughs in research, trained many of the leading chemists in the country, and led the growth of chemistry as both an academic discipline and a profession. Columbia has been home to many renowned chemists, among them Nobel Laureates Harold Urey, the discoverer of deuterium and Edward Kimball, a pioneer in the study of cortical steroids. Louis Hammett, the father of physical organic chemistry, and Victor LaMer, the father of colloid chemistry, were longtime members of the department. The first female professor in Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Mary Caldwell, was appointed assistant professor in Chemistry in 1929. This tradition of excellence and leadership continues today. Our faculty are recipients of many prestigious awards, and our graduates go on to productive careers at the forefront of modern chemistry research and teaching.

The department is housed in four buildings on the Columbia Morningside campus: Havemeyer Hall, completed in 1898, Chandler Laboratories, completed in 1928, Havemeyer Extension, completed in 1990, and the Northwest Corner Interdisciplinary sciences building, completed in 2009. In 1998, at the 100th anniversary of the completion of Havemeyer Hall, the American Chemical Society designated it a National Historic Chemical Landmark. A description of the history of Havemeyer Hall and of some of the notable chemists and their achievements in the Columbia chemistry department can be found on the ACS Landmarks website.

old picture of men on a stoop