Chemistry, in the form of the study of commodities, has been present from the beginning as one of the first group of subjects taught in the Higher School of Commerce, from which the University of Trieste developed. The school was created in 1877, at the behest of Baron Pasquale Revoltella, as the development of trade in the city highlighted the need for training in the field. The first professor of Commodities (Mercinomia) and Applied Chemistry was Vierthaler Augustus (1838-1901), who transmitted passion and interest in this discipline to the Trieste native Giacomo Ciamician (1857-1922), one of the most enlightened Italian chemists and considered to be the founding father of photochemistry. It was professor Giulio Morpurgo (1865-1931) who, called to the chair of Commodities and Chemical Technology at the school, in addition to establishing a chemistry laboratory in 1906 and the commercial museum of the Trieste chamber of commerce, was responsible for the transformation of the school, of which he was Director, first in the Royal Higher Institute of Business Studies (1920) and later in the Royal University of Economics and Business (1924), later becoming its Rector. Further chemistry-related Faculties were later established in the renamed  Royal University (1938): the Faculty of Engineering (1942) , the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences (1946) and the Faculty of Pharmacy ( 1956). In particular, the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences was initiated by three luminaries, including professor Domenico Costa (1895-1955), lecturer in Chemical Bromatology. The degree course in chemistry was activated in the academic year 1946-47. The degree course in pharmacy was established later, in 1956, while the graduate program in pharmaceutical chemistry and technology (CTF) was established in 1979.

Several institutes were established throughout these years: from the historic Institute of Commodities to that of Chemistry, from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Toxicology to that of Pharmaceutical Technology. These were later reorganized in various departments. The current Department of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences (DSCF) of the University of Trieste was founded in 2010 by the fusion of the pre-existing Department of Chemical Sciences and Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The abolition of the existing faculties, as part of the implementation of a reform of the university system (Law 240), led to the transfer of responsibility for teaching activities - specifically the lower and higher degree courses in Chemistry and the single-cycle higher degree courses in Pharmacy and in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology - from the ex-Faculties of Pharmacy and Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences to the DSCF. The DSCF also organised the Ph.D in Chemistry and participates in the Ph.D in Nanotechnology at the University of Trieste. The DSCF is home to a large chemistry library and numerous teaching and research laboratories, along with equipment and facilities dedicated to basic and applied research in the various chemical disciplines. The Department is composed of fifty lecturers/researchers, who are complemented by the same number of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, as well as twenty technical and administrative staff.

The research conducted is divided into different topics, ranging from “supramolecular chemistry and nanotechnology”, to “theoretical and computational chemistry”; from “energy, environment and sustainable chemistry”, to “design, synthesis and formulation of drugs” and the “synthesis, characterization and reactivity of organic compounds and biomolecules”. All researchers of the DSCF are involved in significant research activities, which in many cases reaches levels of excellence, promoting intense scientific contacts at national and international level.

The Department proposes itself to the non-academic world (industry, public and private research institutions, etc.) as a cultural reference point and a support for chemical research.

The Department is home to two research spin-offs, the regional “Order of Chemists”, a section of the National Research Council, the Centre of Excellence in Biocrystallography and currently has agreements with various research institutions, such as the Trieste Synchrotron.

Chemistry, which is defined as a central  science because of its connecting role between the physical sciences, life sciences and applied sciences, such as medicine and engineering, finds itself in recent years with a new centrality in emerging fields such as nanotechnology and molecular medicine.

The actuality of the vision of the aforementioned prof. Ciamician is extraordinary. In a 1903 lecture (lectio magistralis) entitled " The chemical problems of the new century ", he  argued that modern civilization could not rely solely on the use of energy from coal, which represents an infinitesimal part of the solar energy stored by the land over the centuries. He proposed to imitate plants to develop catalysts that, with the aid of sunlight, would permit the transformation of the products of industrial effluents, carbon dioxide and water vapour, to methane and oxygen. Their combustion would subsequently exploit the energy acquired from the sun in the form of heat. Considering also that most of the energy that the earth receives from the sun is wasted, Ciamician proposed to greatly increase the production of vegetal organic matter, to extend the use of materials of plant origin and to improve the yields of processing industries to obtain combustible gaseous fuel from plants. He also proposed the enhancement of theproduction of valuable substances for industry (alkaloids , glycosides, wood , rubber and dyes) from plants as an alternative to their synthesis from derivatives of tar. He was, in other words, a proponent of what today is known as green chemistry. In recent years significant

advances have been made in the fields of bio- refineries, solar energy, photovoltaics, hydrogen production by water splitting, artificial photosynthesis, the use of natural active substances and enzymatic synthesis, and the development of analytical systems for health and environment protection. The contribution made by the DSCF in these research fields has been significant, as evidenced by several scientific publications in the most prestigious scientific journals. The realization of Ciamician’s dream of may or may not be near, however, it is only through interdisciplinary scientific research that sees chemistry as a central science that it will be possible in the coming years to approach his goals.

Silvano Geremia

Last update: 03-17-2014 - 16:50