During the period from the reopening of University of Tartu in 1802 until the establishment of a national University of Tartu on Dec. 1st 1919, the chemists of University of Tartu gained recognition in the Russian Empire and in Europe. University of Tartu owned well-equipped laboratories; there were several prominent professors whose subjects of research were topical at that time. In that period hundreds of chemists graduated from the department of chemistry of University of Tartu. Several of them made remarkable scientific career, reaching outstanding positions at Russian and West-European universities, research institutes, schools, industrial enterprises etc.
Wilhelm Ostwald, a University of Tartu graduate was awarded the Nobel Prize (1909). Twelve academicians and corresponding members of St. Petersburg and USSR Academies of Sciences had been either University of Tartu professors or graduates. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the traditions of the advancement in chemistry at Tartu have to some extent influenced all branches of chemistry in Estonia. Thus, the department of chemistry of University of Tartu has promoted the development of several research trends of chemistry in several research centres.
The range of problems studied by the chemists of Tartu University in 1802 – 1918 was rather wide. Another peculiarity was the application of quantitative research methods to neighbouring disciplines (especially to medicine), which promoted cooperation of different disciplines. The research subjects studied at Tartu were highly topical at that time. The scientists of our university had close contacts with the Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg and other research institutions there, as well as with West-European scientific centres. Tartu University was an important mediator between the Eastern and Western sciences and cultures.
After reopening of the University of Tartu in 1802, among the first professors there were several West-European scholars which brought along the ideas of the Enlightenment: H. G. Arzt, A. N. Scherer, D. H. Grindel, J. E. F. Giese, G. W. Osann, and C. C. T.F. Goebel. As all the above-mentioned professors had been either trained or had worked at the universities of Jena, Erlangen, and Erfurt of South-Germany, they brought along and introduced to Tartu University the ideas, philosophy and academic traditions prevailing at the turn of the 18th -- 19th centuries in Germany.
On the initiative of C. Fr. Goebel, the Institute of Pharmacy was established in 1842. The first head of the institute was C. F. Siller. Goebel remained the professor of chemistry till his death, being also appointed the first professor of the Institute of Chemistry founded in 1850. Since then, the university has had the right to confirm diplomas in chemistry. The next professor of chemistry (1852) was C. E. H. Schmidt. He was followed by his student G. H. A. Tammann. In 1904 – 1908 L. Pissarzhevski, W. Ostwald’s disciple, a later academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, worked here. In 1908 – 1918 G.Tammann’s co-worker and a Tartu University graduate A. Bogoyavlenski held a professorship of chemistry. After leaving Tartu, he was appointed the professor of organic chemistry at the University of Voronezh.
Of those chemists who either studied or worked at Tartu University in the first half of the 19th century, we should mention St. Petersburg academician Herman Hess who graduated from the university in 1825. Herman Hess was one of the founders of thermo-chemistry. He started his career as a chemist in the laboratory of Tartu University. We should also mention G. Osann’s research in the field of chemistry of platinum metals, though he did not finish it here. (G. Osann left Tartu for the University of Würzburg.). C. Fr. Goebel was interested in the same problem. He incited his student and assistant C. E. Claus to study this group of elements. Being a professor of chemistry at Kazan University (1839 – 1852) C. Claus discovered the element ruthenium.
C. Schmidt’s important research field was hydrochemistry. He investigated the waters of all parts of the world. He pioneered in hydrochemistry and his scientific papers have remarkably influenced the progress of this science. Carl Schmidt and Georg Dragendorff laid the foundation of the studies in the field of environmental chemistry and hygiene at Tartu University. Numerous doctor’s and master’s theses dealt with those problems.
Classic studies in the field of the chemistry of silicates and phosphates, carried out by C. Schmidt and disciples J. Lemberg, H. Benrath and G. Tammann, form a special chapter in the progress of chemical research at Tartu University. W. Ostwald was certainly the most outstanding disciple of C. Schmidt. He studied at Tartu University in 1872 – 1875 majoring in chemistry. Ostwald defended here his master’s and doctor’s dissertations and he worked in Tartu until 1881, leaving for Riga and later on for Leipzig. In Tartu W. Ostwald’s studies concentrated on the equilibrium and affinity of chemical reactions (in his choice of research subjects he drew inspiration from J. Lemberg’s lectures).
Another C. Schmidt’s student who gained international recognition was G. Tammann. In 1882, after graduating form the department of chemistry he became C. Schmidt’s lab assistant. In Tartu he was also awarded master’s and doctor’s degrees. In 1892 Russian was to be adopted as the language of tuition instead of German. Carl Schmidt retired and his post was given to G. Tammann. During his Tartu period Tammann studied the problems of heterogeneous equilibrium and phase transition kinetics. Investigating the properties of ice at high pressures he detected in Tartu two new modifications of ice (ice II and III). He also wrote a treatise on the kinetics of ferments. G.Tammann left Tartu for the University of Göttingen in 1904. G. P. A. Bunge, yet another Schmidt’s student studied nutrition physiology. In 1885 he was appointed professor of physiology at the University of Basel. He was a well-known biochemist, one of the pioneers of this field.
For a short period of 1917 – 1918, M. Tswett, the inventor of the method of chromatographic analysis, acted as the professor of botany and the director of the Botanical Garden of the Tartu University.
After the reopening of the University of Tartu in 1919 the Department of Chemistry was reestablished. The first professors of chemistry were G. Landesen and M. Wittlich, while the most important achievements of Department of Chemistry of that period are connected with works of P. Kogerman, G.-A. Parts and A. Paris.
P. Kogerman graduated from University of Tartu in 1918 and was soon sent to study abroad by the University. He was appointed a full professor in 1925. P. Kogerman’s research focused on the oil shale chemistry and the chemistry of unsaturated hydrocarbons. Together with M. Wittlich they opened the first specialized research laboratory in the University of Tartu – the Laboratory of Oil Shale Chemistry.
G.-A. Parts and A. Paris were the reestablishers of the research in physical chemistry in the University of Tartu. He graduated from University of Tartu in 1925, defended his master’s degree (1926) and doctor’s degrees (1929, on the influence of electrolytes on kinetics of interionic reactions) here. His main research topics were connected with the molecular structure and dielectric properties of matter. His very precise measurements of dipole moments of organic substances found a way in many reference books. G.-A. Parts was a pioneer in quantum chemistry in Estonia and he started to read the lectures in quantum chemistry.
A. Paris studied electrical properties of electrolyte solutions and published some high-quality papers in this field.
Department of Chemistry was closed at 1936 in connection with the opening of Tallinn Technical University and the chemistry was taught only to the students of other faculties. As a result the number and quality of the staff was considerably diminished.
The Department of Chemistry was reopened in 1947. After the war the first period in the development of Department of Chemistry (1947-1957) was mostly concerned with organization of teaching, furnishing of laboratories and publication of textbooks. In 1950 Department of Chemistry moved from University’s Main Building to its current location. Several young graduates from Department of Chemistry (V. Past, T. Ilomets) as well as from other universities (V. Palm) started teaching at Department of Chemistry. However, the number of staff with scientific degree remained low and research activity was low until 1957.
The second period in development of Department of Chemistry (1958-1977) was in contrast strongly based on research. There were many young and eager chemists working in Department of Chemistry, the cooperation with research centres in Moscow and Leningrad was established and based on the contract research the research equipment was upgraded. Also the contacts with research institutions in west (USA, Sweden, Canada, etc.) were re-established. The main research activities of that period concentrated on physical organic chemistry, electrochemistry, chemistry of luminophores, and ion exchange materials. Two specialized research laboratories were organised – Laboratory of Chemical Kinetics and Catalysis (1958), headed by prof. V. Palm, and Laboratory of Electrochemistry (1961), headed by prof. V. Past. In 1964 V. Palm initiated publishing of the journal “Organic Reactivity” (1964-1993)– the only Estonian journal in registries of Current Contents for more than 30 years.
V. Palm also pioneered the organization of big research conferences on organic reactivity in Tartu, followed by V. Past and U. Palm, who regularly organized research conferences in the field of electrical double layer, adsorption and kinetics of electrode processes.
The third period in development of Department of Chemistry (1978-1991) saw the new developments in bioorganic chemistry (J. Järv), gas-phase ion-molecule reactions and solvent effects (I. Koppel), organic synthesis (T. Rodima, U. Mäeorg), environmental chemistry (T. Tenno), and computational chemistry (M. Karelson).
In 1992 the former chairs and laboratories were reorganized into institutes, and chairs were established.
Institute of Chemistry 2007-2012
Chair of Analytical Chemistry
Chair of Applied Electrochemistry
Chair of Bioorganic Chemistry
Chair of Chemical Physics
Chair of Chemistry Education
Chair of Colloid and Environmental Chemistry
Chair of Inorganic Chemistry
Chair of Molecular Technology
Chair of Organic Chemistry
Chair of Physical Chemistry