Chemistry at the University of Leipzig looks back on a long tradition and renowned alumni.

The Beginnings

Chemistry can look back on more than 300 years of development at Leipzig University, which was founded in 1409. MICHAEL HEINRICH HORN (1668-1681) was appointed as the first professor extraordinarius for chemistry at the Faculty of Medicine in 1668.

Foto einer Büste von Michael Heinrich Horn
Horn-Epitaph im Paulinum der Universität Leipzig (Foto: Kustodie der Universität Leipzig, Fotoarchiv)

Chemistry in Pleißenburg, Fridericianum and Kolbe Building (18th/19th century)

With short interruptions, he was followed by JOHANN C. SCHAMBERG (1699-1706) and MARTIN NABOTH (1707-1721) as Extraordinaries and the Ordinaries of Chemistry JOHANN C. SCHEIDER (1710-1712), ADAM F. PETZOLD (1722-1761), ANTON RIEDIGER (1762-1783), CHRISTIAN G. ESCHENBACH (1784-1830), OTTO B. KÜHN (1830-1863) and OTTO L. ERDMANN (1830-1835) at the Faculty of Medicine. The first university chemical laboratory was established in 1804/1805 by Christian G. Eschenbach in the basement rooms of the Pleißenburg, on whose site the New Town Hall now stands. In the course of a university reform in 1835, the Ordinariate for (Technical) Chemistry was transferred to the Faculty of Philosophy with OTTO L. ERDMANN (1835-1869), and thus began a rapid, independent and successful development of the scientific discipline of chemistry at the University of Leipzig. Otto L. Erdmann was Rector of the University for four terms, founded the Journal für praktische Chemie (1834) , was in close scientific contact with Justus von Liebig in Gießen and Munich respectively, and in 1843 realised the construction of the most modern chemistry laboratory in Germany at the time (Chymicum, Fridericianum) at the Bürgerschule 3. It was completely destroyed by a bombing raid in 1943, and today the central university canteen is located there.

Otto Linné Erdmann (Foto: Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung)
Chymicum (Fridericianum,1843) (Foto: Stadtgesch. Museum Leipzig, Johannes Mühler, 1920. Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung, Chemie an der Universität Leipzig, Passage-Verlag, 2009 Nr. 205)

The great achievements of Leipzig chemistry are associated with illustrious names: HERMANN KOLBE (1865-1884) developed, among other things, a synthesis of salicylic acid, the basis for the production of the universally used drug "Aspirin". The new, modern chemical laboratory "Kolbe-Bau" (1868) in Waisenhausstraße (later renamed Liebigstraße) attracted chemistry students from all over Germany. His successor JOHANNES WISLICENUS (1885-1902), then ARTHUR HANTZSCH (1903-1930) and his successor BURCKHARDT HELFERICH (1930-1945) were among the most productive and well-known chemists of their time who worked and lived in this ensemble of buildings (with lecture hall).

Hermann Kolbe (Holzstich von Bruno H. Straßberger. Kunstsammlung der Universität Leipzig. Chemie an der Universität Leipzig, Passage-Verlag, 2009. Nr. 13)
Johannes Wislicenus (Foto: Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung. Chemie an der Universität Leipzig, Passage-Verlag, 2009. Nr. 15)
Arthur Hantzsch (Foto: Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung (Foto:privat))
Burckhardt Helferich (Foto: Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung. Chemie an der Universität Leipzig, Passage-Verlag, 2009. Nr. 33)
Chemisches Laboratorium (Kolbe-Bau, 1868) (Holzstich Bruno Straßberger, Kopie im Historischen Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung. Chemie an der Universität Leipzig, Passage-Verlag, 2009. Nr. 208)

Wilhelm Ostwald and the Leipzig School of Physical Chemistry. The Laboratory for Applied Chemistry

While GUSTAV HEINRICH WIEDEMANN (1871-1887), known for Wiedemann-Franz's Law, held the first chair of physical chemistry at the Leipzig University and then moved to the Institute of Physics, WILHELM OSTWALD (1887-1906), the co-founder of physical chemistry and the "Leipzig School of Physical Chemistry" with the building of the Physical-Chemical Institute Leipzig inaugurated in 1898, became a Mecca for physical chemists from all over the world. His lasting achievements, the scientific laws he recognised, especially on the fundamentals of electrolytic dissociation and catalysis, were honoured with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909. From 1887 to 1898 he headed the 2nd Chemical Laboratory in the building at Brüderstraße 35 (since 2009 "Historic Site of Chemistry"), which originally housed the Agricultural Institute and was the seat of the professorship for agricultural chemistry with WILHELM KNOP (1866-1887). When Wilhelm Ostwald moved into the newly built Physical-Chemical Institute in 1898, where his successor MAX LE BLANC (1906-1933) and later KARL FRIEDRICH BONHOEFFER (1934-1946) also worked from 1906 onwards, the building at Brüderstraße 35 housed the third professorship, the "Laboratory for Applied Chemistry", with ERNST OTTO BECKMANN (1897-1912). He is well known to all chemistry students due to the development of methods for molecular weight determination and the "Beckmann rearrangement". His successor CARL PAAL (1912-1929) devoted himself to colloidal metals and pharmaceutical chemistry, and it was not until 1938 that KARL HUGO BAUER (1926-1942) broke away from the association of other chemical institutes with the founding of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, as did the later founded Institutes of Biochemistry, which moved to the Faculty of Medicine or the Life Sciences, now called "Lebenswissenschaften".

Wilhelm Ostwald (Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung)
Physikalisch-chemisches Institut, Druck
Foto von Ernst Otto Beckmann, Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie
Laboratorium für Angewandte Chemie (Historischer Archivbestand der Fakultät für Chemie und Mineralogie, Fotosammlung (Foto: A. Kühne))

Beginning of the 20th century until the post-war period

Many other important chemists worked in the Leipzig Chemical Institutes during the period described: The extraordinaries of inorganic and analytical chemistry SCHÄFER (1917-1922), FRANZ HEIN (1923-1942), ARTHUR SCHLEEDE (1932-1936), HANS KAUTSKY (1936-1945), BURGHARD CARLSOHN (1938-1945), organic chemistry HANS STOBBE (1898-1928), GUSTAV REDDELIN (1920-1938), FRIEDRICH WEYGAND (1930-1945), HELLMUT BREDERECK (1939-1942), physical chemistry: JULIUS WAGNER (1901-1924), CARL DRUCKER (1903-1933), ROBERT LUTHER (1904-1908), KARL FREDENHAGEN (1906-1923), KARL SCHAUM (1908-1914), JOHANN SCHALL (1909-1937), WILHELM C. BÖTTGER (1910-1937), FRITZ WEIGERT (1914-1935), FRIEDRICH W. JOST (1937-1943), technical chemistry: ANTON WEDDIGE (1878-1902), ERNST von MEYER (1878-1893), BERTHOLD RASSOW (1902-1935), JOHANNES SCHEIBER (1938-1945).

The National Socialist era, the conditions during the war and the destruction of the chemistry buildings in 1943 due to bombing, as well as the forced transfer of professors, including almost all of the chemistry faculty and some staff, to the American occupation zone in June 1945 were a serious break. KARL FRIEDRICH BONHOEFFER (until 1946) and especially Professors LEOPOLD WOLF (1945/47 -1961, Inorganic Chemistry), WILHELM TREIBS (1951-1961, Organic Chemistry), HERBERT STAUDE (1947-1959, Physical Chemistry) and later EBERHARD LEIBNITZ (1951-1968, Technical Chemistry) were briefly active in the new beginning after 1945. The Ordinariate for Chemistry, formally occupied by BURCKHARDT HELFERICH until 1949, was separated in 1951 into the two Ordinariates for Inorganic and Organic Chemistry, at the same time as institutes. They moved into the newly built chemistry building at Liebigstraße 18 between 1949 and 1951, while the Institute of Physical Chemistry remained in the partially rebuilt north wing of the building at Linnéstraße 2, which was given the name "Wilhelm Ostwald Institute" in 1998. The Institute of Technical Chemistry and parts of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry remained in the building at Brüderstraße 35. From then on, the chemical institutes belonged to the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

Foto von Karl F. Bonhoeffer
Leopold Wolf, Foto
Wilhelm Treibs, Foto
Herbert Staude, Foto
Eberhardt Leibnitz, Foto
Chemisches Laboratorium (1951), Foto
Wilhelm-Ostwald-Institut (1998), Foto

HEINZ HOLZAPFEL (1961-1968, Inorganic Chemistry), MANFRED MÜHLSTÄDT (1961-1968, Organic Chemistry) and GERHARD GEISELER (1959-1968, Physical Chemistry) followed in the leadership of the institutes.


MINERALOGY, CRISTALLOGRAPHY (and PETROGRAPHY) took on an independent development within the Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences from 1843 with the appointment of KARL FRIEDRICH NAUMANN (1843-1870) and merged institutionally with CHEMISTRY from 1968. However, the scientific fields remain autonomous to this day. Their important predecessors at the Leipzig University include GEORGIUS AGRICOLA, pioneer of the mining sciences, who acquired his knowledge here from 1514 to 1518, and CHRISTIAN SAMUEL WEISS, founder of mathematically based crystallography, who studied here from 1796, lectured on natural sciences from 1803 and was appointed to a professorship in physics in 1809. He moved to the newly founded University of Berlin in 1810. The Institute of Mineralogy continued to distinguish itself with worldwide recognition under FERDINAND ZIRKEL (1870-1909), FRIEDRICH RINNE (1909-1928); KARL-HERRMANN SCHEUMANN (1928-1945), HERBERT PÜHRER (1946-1960) and HERMANN NEELS (1960-1968).

Afterwards, the Mineralogy Department was incorporated into the Chemistry Section. HERMANN NEELS, who worked there until 1978, was followed by PETER PAUFLER (1978-1992) and, after the re-foundation of the Institute of Mineralogy, Crystallography and Materials Science on 1 December 1993, by KLAUS BENTE (1993-2011) and OLIVER OECKLER. Until its destruction in 1943, the Mineralogical Institute was located in buildings on Liebigstraße and since then has been based in a converted former school building at Scharnhorststraße 20. The MINERALOGICAL COLLECTION has always been of particular importance.

Georgius Agricola, Bildnis von Karl Pintl
Christian S. Weiss
Karl F. Naumann
Ferdinand Zirkel, Foto
Friedrich Rinne, Foto
Der ehemalige Professor für Mineralogie, Peter Paufler (Foto: Fotoatelier Roschk (Dresden))
Der ehemalige Professor für Mineralogie Klaus Bente (Foto: Universitätsarchiv Leipzig)

The Chemistry Section in the 2nd Half of the 20th Century

In the course of a higher education reform for all universities and colleges in the GDR, the CHEMISTRY SECTION was formed on 15 June 1968 by merging the above-mentioned institutes. The founding director was SIEGFRIED HAUPTMANN (1968-1972), followed by the appointed section directors Profs. ROLF SCHÖLLNER (1972-1976), MANFRED WEIßENFELS (1976-1980), EHRENFRIED BUTTER (1980-1988) and GERHARD WERNER (1988-1990).  From initially five research collectives: Solid State Chemistry and Crystallography; Heterocycles and Metal Chelates; Aliphatics and Alicycles; Chemical Bonding and Intermolecular Interactions; Trace Analysis, a structural division into fourteen working groups including Crystallography took place in 1972, which in 1982 again became eight scientific areas: Inorganic Chemistry; Organic Chemistry; Technical Chemistry; Physical Chemistry; Analytical Chemistry; Crystallography; Methodology of Teaching Chemistry. All research collectives or working groups or scientific fields were very closely linked to large-scale chemical enterprises in commissioned research. "Teaching collectives" were responsible for certain teaching areas of the newly structured teaching programme valid for all chemistry sections of the GDR. The following were appointed as professors HEINZ HOLZAPFEL (1960, AC); WOLFGANG LORENZ (1961, PC), MANFRED MÜHLSTÄDT (1962, OC); SIEGFRIED HAUPTMANN (1964, OC);  GÜNTHER LANGHAMMER (1964, PC); HORST MÖHLE (1966, MC); EBERHARD HOYER (1967, AC); ARMIN MEISEL (1968, PC); MANFRED WEIßENFELS (1969, OC); JOHANNA FRUWERT (1970, PC); KONRAD QUITZSCH (1970, PC); ROLF SCHÖLLNER (1970, TC); EHRENFRIED BUTTER (1972, AC); ROLF BORSDORF (1975, AnC), GERHARD WERNER (1976, AnC); RICHARD MAHRWALD (1976, TC), HORST HENNIG (1977, AC, Rector from 1987-1990), GERHARD MANN (1977, OC), PETER PAUFLER (1978, Kr); KLAUS SCHULZE (1979, OC); KARL HERMANN STEINBERG (1980, TC); PHILIPP THOMAS (1982, AC); WERNER ENGEWALD (1985, AnC), RAINER HERZSCHUH (1985, AnC) GÜNTHER KÜHN (1985, Kr); KLAUS DITTRICH (1987, AnC); JÜRGEN HOFFMANN (1988, PC); PETER BRÄUER (1989, PC); DETLEV REHOREK (1989, AC) and CORNELIUS WEISS (1989, ThC).

In 1989, the new building "Technikum Analytikum" for analytical chemistry, technical chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry was inaugurated.

Siegfried Hauptmann, Foto
Horst Hennig, Foto
Technikum Analytikum, Foto von 1999

After German reunification

After German unification in October 1990, CORNELIUS WEISS became Section Director by secret ballot. Because of his election as Rector of the Leipzig University and the assumption of his first rectorate, his elected deputy, HORST WILDE, followed as early as March 1991 as Director of the "Department of Chemistry" formed from the Section until the end of 1993. This time of social upheaval was the beginning of a fundamental reorientation, which particularly affected the personnel situation with dismissals and new appointments and the adjustment to the system of research and research financing functioning in the old FRG, new organisational structures, the adjustment of the teaching programmes and the establishment of national and international scientific relations. The Institutes of Analytical Chemistry; Inorganic Chemistry; Organic Chemistry; Physical and Theoretical Chemistry; Technical Chemistry; Mineralogy, Crystallography and Materials Science, which were newly founded or re-established on 2 December 1993, as well as the Interdisciplinary Institute for Nature and Environmental Protection, which was temporarily affiliated, the Department of Chemical Didactics and the Technical and Economic Department were merged on 14 January 1994. The Faculty of Chemistry and Mineralogy of the University of Leipzig was formed on 14 January 1994 on the basis of the Saxon Higher Education Act of 4 August 1993 under the first rectorate of CORNELIUS WEISS, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry. Later, the Institute for Bioanalytical Chemistry, which is located in BIOCITY, founded in 2003, and the Institute for Didactics of Chemistry, formed in 2012 from the Methodology Department, were also incorporated. The faculty was granted doctoral and habilitation rights as one of 14 faculties at the university. The first democratically elected dean was JOACHIM REINHOLD. He was followed as elected deans by HELMUT PAPP (1996-1999), PETER WELZEL (1999-2001), EVAMARIE HEY-HAWKINS (2001-2002), HARALD MORGNER (2002-2005), HELMUT PAPP (2005-2007), HARALD KRAUTSCHEID (2007-2010), CHRISTOPH SCHNEIDER (2010-2013), DETLEV BELDER (2013-2016), NORBERT STRÄTER (2016-2019), ROGER GLÄSER (since 2019). Joint professorships were created with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the Leibniz Institute for Surface Modification. The "New Chemistry Building" project, already approved in 1993, was completed in 1999 with the handover of a functionally and architecturally modern building.

Cornelius Weiss, Foto: Armin Kühne
Horst Wilde, Foto
Joachim Reinhold, Foto
Hauptgebäude Chemie, Foto von 1999

A detailed description of the history of chemistry at the University of Leipzig is contained in the book "Chemie an der Universität Leipzig. Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart" (eds: Lothar Beyer, Joachim Reinhold, Horst Wilde), Passage-Verlag Leipzig, 2009.

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