The Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, D-CHAB, has a long and proud history at the ETH, beginning as one of the original Abteilungen at the ETH’s founding in 1855, i.e., the Chemisch-Technische Abteilung and the Abteilung für Pharmazie. Ever since, D-CHAB has pursued scientific, structural, and institutional innovation with a consistent emphasis on enhancing the quality of teaching and research.
From the very beginning, new professors were chosen on the basis of their academic promise, independent of national origin, and were, especially by European standards, extraordinarily young. Of the four professors appointed between 1893 and 1929 three received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work done largely at the ETH (Richard Willstätter, Richard Kuhn, and Hermann Staudinger). The next two professors, Leopold Ruzicka and Vladimir Prelog, both also subsequent Nobel Laureates, were born in Vukovar and Sarajevo, respectively. As Chemistry at the ETH was gaining international prominence, Leopold Ruzicka stayed at the ETH for 28 years and Vladimir Prelog for 25 years. Vladimir Prelog also played a decisive role in the formation of the modern department. He divided his Chair into seven equivalent Chairs. At the same time the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry was established on similar principles. The Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry and the Laboratory of Technical Chemistry were substantially reformed along the same lines in the following decade.
Pharmaceutical Sciences, originally part of the Chemisch-Technischen Schule, became independent as Abteilung V in 1908 and as Pharmazeutisches Institut in 1916. In 1990, the Pharmazeutisches Institut became Departement Pharmazie. It remained so until 1999 when ETH Zurich decided to terminate the Abteilungen creating a new type of Department. The Departement Pharmazie then became the Department of Applied Biosciences (D-ANBI). Shortly thereafter, in 2003, the departments at the ETH became autonomous and the D-ANBI was merged with the D-CHEM (Department of Chemistry) to form the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences (D-CHAB).
Already in 1886, a new chemistry building was opened in the center (on Universitätsstrasse). This building was well equipped and was state-of-the-art, offering excellent working conditions for generations of researchers. In 2003, the Department of Chemistry moved to the new HCI building on the Hönggerberg Campus, were it still resides.