Since the 1800s, the University of Michigan has been a hub of chemistry research and innovations. This slideshow highlights the researchers, classrooms, and labs that have shaped chemistry research at U-M over the years. See the first building in North America constructed solely for chemistry research, meet the men behind the Gomberg-Bachman reaction, and take a peek inside a chemistry classroom today.

The Chemical Laboratory, built in 1856 on the spot now occupied by Randall Lab, was the first building constructed in North America solely for the purpose of chemistry research. It started as a cramped one-floor space with 26 tables. Due to high demand and ballooning enrollment, the lab was renovated seven times over 53 years until a new lab was built in 1909.

Albert B. Prescott, here giving an organic chemistry lecture in 1897, was a graduate of the U-M medical school, director of the Chemical Laboratory, and founder of the School of Pharmacy. Prescott insisted that chemists and pharmacists should be trained at universities, rather than through finishing schools and apprenticeships. Controversial at the time, his ideas eventually became standard.

Even in 1875, professors like Prescott had to fill out paperwork describing for University administrators how they would divide their time between lectures, labs, research, and office hours. This process is virtually unchanged 138 years later.

Professor Moses Gomberg, shown here in his lab in 1890, came to Michigan from his native Russia in 1885. Gomberg was the first chair of Michigan’s Department of Chemistry. He is best known for the discovery of organic free radicals, elusive molecules that are short lived and highly reactive. This discovery fostered in an entirely new field of research.

Werner E. Bachmann (right) earned both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at U-M under Gomberg (left). The pair collaborated to discover the Gomberg-Bachmann reaction (BrC6H4NH2 + C6H6 → BrC6H4−C6H5). Bachmann went on to develop a process of manufacturing R.D.X., a crucial explosive compound used in World War II.

Kasimir Fajans gives his last lecture in May 1956. Fajans was one of many scientists of Jewish heritage who fled Nazi-controlled Germany in the 1930s. Fajans was the first professor of physical chemistry at U-M and discovered the element protactinium. Today, graduate students in chemistry can win the Kasimir Fajans prize for excellent doctoral dissertations.

In 1987, the University started construction on the Chemistry Building, which is home to the department today. Professors Mark Meyerhoff, Michael Morris, Adon Gordus, and Richard Sacks are shown here during the groundbreaking ceremony.

Today LSA's Department of Chemistry is regarded as a top research institution. The graduate program is consistently ranked among the top 20 programs in the country.

1800 Chemistry, the largest lecture hall on campus, sees hundreds of undergraduates each semester for courses such as CHEM 130, General Chemistry.

Photos courtesy of Bentley Historical Library and the Millennium Project