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Chemistry Collection


The Chemistry Collection contains around 1,100 items, mainly chemical apparatus and specimens, illustrating the development of teaching and research in the field of chemistry at the University of St Andrews.  The teaching of chemistry at the University began in 1811.   The comprehensive collection of about 900 sugar samples, produced by Professors Thomas Purdie and James Irvine during the early years of the 20th century, are of international importance.  By the use of chemical reagents, Irvine unravelled the structure of a number of sugar molecules and confirmed the existence of rings of atoms. He discovered several new sugars and made chemical derivatives of them, and also of well-known sugars, as part of the investigation of molecular structures.  Ultimately, Irvine's work on rings of atoms was to have important consequences in the field of biology, informing developments such as the discovery of DNA.

The Collection also contains 10 items of early glassware, dating from the late 18th or early 19th century.  They are believed to have been purchased by Professor Robert Briggs through the Edinburgh dealer and instrument maker Alexander Allan in October 1811, and to have previously belonged to the Edinburgh private lecturer Thomas Thomson, later Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow University.

Other items of particular interest include a rare mid-18th century chemical balance, 37 inches long, made by George Adams of London.  There are prints by Gillray and Rowlandson and engravings of chemical scenes, after artists such as David Teniers.