Our History

The Department of Chemical Sciences at the Federico II University has antique roots. It dates back to the foundation of Chemical Institute in 1862, from which, through various historical and academic events, has evolved to the current organization. The following historical notes are part of a more extensive document, prepared by prof. Lelio Mazzarella, available on the website www.scienzechimiche.unina.it.


The assignment of an adequate space for the development of chemical activities in the University of Naples goes back to the arrival of Garibaldi in Naples in September 1860. Francesco De Sanctis was soon entrusted with the task to renew ab imis the university education that had gradually declined, particularly in the latter part of the reign of Ferdinand II. On this occasion the space assigned was in via Mezzocannone 8, now occupied by the neapolitan Academies. As regards the reform of the studies in chemistry, this was guided by Raffaele Piria (1814-1865) from Calabria, who had studied in Naples, and Stanislao Cannizzaro (1826-1910), both considered the founders of the modern italian chemistry. Incidentally, the first two professors that will occupy the chemistry chair of the reformed university were former students of Piria and Cannizzaro.

At the start of the reform the two positions of Inorganic Chemistry and Organic Chemistry were first established. De Sanctis succeeded in convincing Sebastiano De Luca (1820–1880), at the time full professor at the Pisa University, to occupy the chair of Inorganic Chemistry. Once in Naples, De Luca started an intense research activity in various fields, showing the chemistry to be a central science for the study and control of the human activity and environment. For this reason, De Luca can be considered the true founder of the neapolitan chemistry.

On the death of De Luca, his successor became Agostino Oglialoro Todaro (1847-1923), a Sicilian chemist who had grown up at the school of Cannizzaro and Paternò at the Palermo University. At the time he earned the chair in Naples, Oglialoro had already obtained interesting results in the field of organic chemistry, on chloral, on the constitution of picrotoxin, on the synthesis of unsaturated acids. In particular, his work on phenylcinnamic acid represented an important contribution to understanding the mechanism of the Perkin reaction, now known as the Oglialoro-Perkin reaction, and opened the way to the preparation of a large number of new substances. While he was in Naples, the central building of the University in corso Umberto and the two rear buildings in via Tari and in via Mezzocannone 4, respectively, were completed. In the first building was allocated the Physics Institute and in the second the Chemistry Institute, where it remained for about ninety years.

When Oglialoro retired, the chair was occupied by Ferruccio Zambonini (1880-1932), a mineralogist lent to chemistry. Zambonini moved to Naples in 1923 and served as director of the Chemical Institute until 1932, when he died at the age of fifty-two. Zambonini was a brilliant scientist with an international reputation. Member of the Accademia dei Lincei and of several other Academies, he was also an excellent organizer and carried out an intense institutional activity in the neapolitan university, of which he was Rector for two terms (1923-1925 and 1930-1932). Its scientific activity was of good level and was developed essentially in the field of structural mineralogy.

In the meantime, in the first half of the twentieth century, Marussia Bakunin (1873-1960) and Francesco Giordani (1896-1961), Oglialoro's former students, had grown up and rapidly acquired a prominent role in the italian chemistry. Bakunin graduated in chemistry in 1895 and almost immediately began to lead the Oglioloro's research lines, broadening their perspectives. She studied some derivatives of cinnamic acid, the mechanism of the Oglialoro-Perkin reaction, the cis-trans transitions activated by temperature or by radiation, the structure and properties of strychnine and morphine, the constitution of picrotoxin, and some pioneering research in the field of photochemistry. In 1912 she was appointed full professor, on the chair of Organic Chemistry at the Regia Scuola Superiore Politecnica of Naples. In 1936 she moved to the chair of Industrial Chemistry of the same institution, which, in the meantime, had been renamed Faculty of Engineering and incorporated into the University of Naples. Finally, she moved to the chair of Organic Chemistry of the Faculty of Sciences. Bakunin interest progressively turned towards applied chemistry, both at a scientific and teaching level. In particular, she studied the oil shales of the Peloritani and Picentini Mountains for their potential application in industries and for the production of ichthyol, an oil that was used for medicinal purposes.

In February 1947, she was elected member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the first woman of the Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences Class of this Academy. In 1905 she had become a member of the Accademia Pontaniana,  President of the same Accademia in 1944 and Honorary President until 1952. She was very close to Benedetto Croce; together they reconstitute the Accademia Pontaniana, after the suppression in the fascist period. She was also responsible for partial saving the libraries, University Institutes and Academies of via Mezzocannone from the destruction carried out by the retreating german troups. Marussia Bakunin continued to participate in the Chemical Institute life almost until the end in 1960.

Comparatively less relevant was the scientific activity of Francesco Giordani, the favourite student of M. Bakunin. However, much more important was his contribution to the university policy (organization of basic and applied research, industrial research) and to the economic policy of Italy tout court. Initially, Giordani contributed to the research activity of Oglialoro and Bakunin, but soon became interested in the field of electrochemistry, a branch of the physical chemistry in rapid development. After the Zambonini's death in 1932, Francesco Giordani was called to the chair of General Chemistry and became the Director of the Chemical Institute, where he remained for about thirty years until he died in January 1961. When he took over the direction of the Chemical Institute, Giordani had already started an applied research activity, strongly integrated within the autarchic policy of the fascist regime, concerning the electrochemical production of chlorine and of cellulose from poor materials. Over this period, a prominent research and teaching activity was developed by Silvia Restaino (1899-1984) in the field of analytical chemistry, by Raffaele Bonifazi (1909-1987) in the field of general chemistry,  and by Ugo Beretta (1902-1959) and Liliana Jannelli (1921-1992) in the field of physical chemistry.

Much more important was the contribution of Giordani to the italian industrial activities as President of the Istituto della Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) and other public Agencies, which became the fulcrum of the public participation to the italian economy after the war and were among the protagonists of the economic "miracle". He also played an important role in the research and cultural organization as President of the National Research Council and of the Accademia dei Lincei. He was among the main coordinators of the development policy in Italy for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and one of the three European scientists designated for drafting the EURATOM project.

Giordani had also an important role for the acquisition by the Institute of various scientific equipment from ARAR (Azienda Recupero Alienazione Residuati), an organization that also managed the distribution in Italy of the scientific equipment from the European Recovery Program (ERP), also known as the Marshall Plan. With this project, only few years after the end of the war, the Institute received equipment for research in the field of electrochemistry, spectroscopy, X-ray powder diffraction, and in 1953 the EM100 electron microscope, one of the first installed in Italy. He also implemented the Institute library, which became an important information resource for operators in the chemical field for central and southern Italy.

With the death of Marussia Bakunin and Francesco Giordani a long chapter of the neapolitan chemistry was definitively closed. The importance of these two scientists in the political and cultural life of Naples, is highlighted by the presence in the city toponymy of two streets dedicated to them.

New and important research lines were already emerging with Salvatore Califano (1931) in the field of molecular spectroscopy, Roberto Moccia (1931) in that of theoretical chemistry, Paolo Giordano Orsini (1926-1996) in the field of materials, and Vincenzo Vitagliano (1929) in the thermodynamics of solutions and diffusive processes. However, the most significant event of the postwar years was the appointment in 1948 of Luigi Panizzi (1909-1988) as professor of Organic Chemistry on the chair made available by the retirement of Marussia Bakunin. With the arrival of Panizzi was created the Institute of Organic Chemistry, housed in a building in via Leopoldo Rodinò, seat of the Faculty of Pharmacy. Since then, the Institute of Organic Chemistry and the Chemical Institute housed in via Mezzocannone 4 developed separately to merge only recently into the Department of Chemical Sciences. Panizzi remained four years in Naples, where he developed an intense research activity on the chemistry of natural substances, continued successfully at the University of Rome, where he moved in 1952. To replace Panizzi, arrived Giovanni Speroni (1910-1984), who focused his research also in the physico-chemical properties of organic molecules. After Speroni, in 1958 returned from Rome Rodolfo Nicolaus (1920-2008) a former assistant of Bakunin. Nicolaus continued in Naples the research program on the chemistry of pyrrole compounds. The study of melanin was then developed in Naples for over fifty years with the aim to understand properties and structure of this complex system. The arrival of Nicolaus was the first of the events that, in few years, radically changed the cultural horizons of chemistry in Naples. In 1959 the Faculty of Sciences called Alfonso Maria Liquori (1926-2000) on the chair of Physical Chemistry. He was only thirty-four but had already a solid international reputation. In contact with prestigious European and American research centres, he had started, immediately after graduation, research activity in the field of structural biology, an emerging discipline started essentially in American and English laboratories.

With the help of Nicolaus, Liquori promoted a strong generational change: in 1961 arrived Arnaldo Liberti (1917-2000) on the chair of Analytical Chemistry and Paolo Corradini (1930-2006) on that of General Chemistry. Liberti was one of the pioneers of gas chromatography for the analysis of essential oils and for the determination of trace elements in complex matrices. Corradini was only thirty-one when he came to Naples; he had previously given an important contribution to the understanding on structural bases of the mechanical properties of stereoregular polymers, for which Natta received the Nobel Prize in 1963. In Naples he established an intense activity on the crystal structure of polymeric materials and on the polymerization mechanisms to make stereoregular polymers.  Liquori was one of the promoters of the important scientific season that, at the beginning of the sixties of the last century, brought Naples and the neapolitan chemistry to the attention of the international world. His scientific interest included the thermodynamics of irreversible processes, the conformation of optically active stereoregular polymers, the interaction of small organic molecules with DNA. He was one of the first scientist in the world to attempt a theoretical prediction of the conformational preferences of polypeptides.

In those years, other professors gradually joined the Chemical Institute. In 1965 Alessandro Ballio (1921-2014) was called on the chair of Chemistry of Natural Substances, introducing a vigorous line of research in the field of biochemistry. The institute research was further expanded with the arrival in 1967 of Gennaro Volpicelli (1933), who organized a research group on the processes of the chemical industry, since then active in the Institute. Finally, Giuseppe Del Re (1932-2009), appointed in 1969 to the chair of Theoretical Chemistry, began a fertile research line in this discipline.

Among those who had initially participated to the research lines quoted above and then established new research lines, stand out the names of A. Panunzi (1936), R. Palumbo(1938) and A. Sirigu (1939) in the field of metalloorganic; C. Pedone (1938) and E. Benedetti (1940) in the field of oligopeptide structure; G. Barone (1937-2017) e Lucilla Salerno (1930-2020) in the field of thermodynamics of dilute solutions; Lelio Mazzarella (1938), who started the study in  the field of biocristallography and  carried out the first three-dimensional structure of a protein in Italy; Gennaro Marino (1938), who opened new lines in the field of bio-analytical chemistry and microbial biotechnologies. Marino was among the promoters of the new faculty of Biotechnological Science, of which he became Dean in 2006. He is fellow of the Lincei Academy. In 1980 Benedetti, Mazzarella e Pedone founded the CNR Centre of Biocrystallography that was allocated in the Department of Chemistry.

A rapid expansion of scientific and research lines also occurred in the Institute of Organic Chemistry. In 1964 arrived in Naples Lorenzo Mangoni (1932-2020), a former student of Panizzi. He developed, among the first in Italy, a synthetic approach to the study of natural organic molecules and renewed the teaching of organic chemistry inserting in the course an extensive mechanicistic approach. Mangoni played a leading role in the politics of the University of Naples. He was Dean of the Faculty of Sciences from 1979 to 1993, a period of major transformations in the teaching of the Faculty. Among the research lines that also played a central role in the development of the scientific activities of the Institute, stand out those conducted by Ciro Santacroce (1933-1994), Donato Sica (1933), Giuseppe Prota (1938-2006). In 1970 the Institute moved to via Mezzocannone 16 in the building made available by the transfer of the Faculty of Engineering to Piazzale Tecchio in Fuorigrotta. In the new location, it was possible to start a development policy that led to a further broadening of the cultural horizons of the Institute and definitively opened the doors to the research in the field of proteins and, in general, of molecules of biological interest. This policy was realized with the arrival of Enzo Leone (1917-1984) as professor of Biological Chemistry, who established an important research group, with an extensive biological and biochemical background, successively guided by Giuseppe D'Alessio (1938). This policy was enforced by the subsequent transfer of the Ballio's group from the Chemical Institute. To underline this important broadening of the scientific interest of the Institute., his name was changed to Institute of Organic and Biological Chemistry

The staff of the two Institute increased considerably overtime, and the new researchers renewed the old lines and introduced new ones. In 2000 the two Institutes, which had been transformed into Departments according to the DPR 382 (1980), moved to the new buildings in Monte Sant'Angelo. The Department of Organic and Biological Chemistry lost in the transfer the more specific biological component and changed the name to Department of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. Finally, in 2012, the two Departments merged into the Department of Chemical Sciences with the organization described in the preface of this volume.

The Department of Chemical Sciences includes 96 professors and researchers, and 17 units of technical and administrative staff. 

 Teaching, research and third mission are the founding pillars of the Department.