Chemistry in Cork has long and deep roots which date back as far as Robert Boyle (1626 - 1691). Boyle, who was a son of the first Earl of Cork and was born in Lismore near Cork , was one of the great early scientists. His experimental findings brought to an end the era of alchemy and led to the foundation of modern chemistry.
The Royal Cork Institution and Queen's College Cork
Boyle's influence in Cork persisted long after. A scientific institute that had been founded earlier was incorporated by royal Charter in 1807 to become the Royal Cork Institution (1802-1849). It was subsidised by a descendent of Boyle. Four professors were employed, including a Professor of Chemistry. One of the holders of this professorship was Edmund Davy, a cousin of the famed Sir Humphry Davy.
While in Cork, he developed his research on the chemistry of platinum, water hardness, and the chemistry of foodstuffs such as milk and flour. When financial difficulties led to the demise of the Cork Institution, the strong reaction among the business community in Cork led to the promotion of a scheme for provincial colleges with power to confer degrees. The past success of the Cork Institution paved the way, and in 1845 the Colleges Bill established the three Queen’s Colleges at Cork, Belfast, and Galway.
The 20th century
Although the first President of Queen’s College Cork, Sir Robert Kane FRS, was a noted scholar in both medicine and chemistry, the activities of Chemistry were initially confined to training medical and engineering students. With the introduction of the Universities Bill, a Faculty of Science was instituted and a new building for Chemistry and Physics was completed in 1910. Between 1910 and 1960, Chemistry had a succession of professors, but it was not until the appointment of Francis Leslie Scott that major changes occurred. It was mainly his success and drive as an academic that led to the completion of the current Science Building in 1970. Chemistry now expanded rapidly with the appointment of professorships in organic, physical, inorganic, and more recently in analytical chemistry and in pharmaceutical chemistry. Its graduates were of such calibre that many international pharmaceutical companies opted to manufacture in the greater Cork area on a large scale, with numerous Cork graduates appointed to academic posts throughout Ireland.
The last decade has seen a robust expansion of the department's facilities and personnel, in line with the booming Irish economy and the need for a more highly trained workforce. The need for more research space has been met by the construction of the new Cavanagh Pharmacy building and the Environmental Research Institute, both of which have outstanding laboratory facilities. New personnel have added strength to the department's research programmes: in addition to our long-standing excellence in synthetic work and close links with pharmaceutical chemistry, the department has built up new areas of strength in materials chemistry and nanoscience, separation science and chemical sensors, and atmospheric chemistry. Chemistry continues to be a leading discipline at the University College Cork and is recognised internationally for the calibre of its graduates and research.
Clockwise from top left: Tyndall National Institute, Cavanagh Pharmacy Building, Environmental Research Institute, Kane Science Building.