As you pass the front gates onto campus, the Laboratories of the Chemistry Department are the first buildings you see on your left.
The University admitted its first students in 1948, as a College of the University of
London (UK). The first lecture given on campus, was in the Department of Chemistry by Professor Cedric Hassall, a New Zealander, to a group of
thirty-three premedical students. Professor Hassall had been handpicked by Professor
Alexander Todd of Cambridge University (UK). The original
temporary wooden building in which this lecture was given was almost totally destroyed
by hurricane Gilbert in 1988.
Cedric Hassall spent nine years at the University College of the West Indies (as it then was). During that time he was vigorous in building a research school and founding a Department that would set the seal on its pursuit of excellence. He made Natural Products Chemistry his specialty. The postdoctoral fellows in his group included Frank Curtis, Karl Reyle and Bernard Smith. The school of postgraduate studies in that area has continued as one of the major areas of emphasis in the Department.
His work is most notable for investigations which led to the discovery of hypoglycin in ackees, thereby explaining the previous mysterious, vomiting sickness, but he also investigated yams, sisal and the toxic constiuents of higher plants. In addition he studied microorganisms for substances of possible pharmaceutical use. The studies on the Panama disease of bananas led to an anitbiotic (Monamycin) which was found to be active against human pathogens. He was early in the field of flavour constituents and examined those which gave rum its characteristics.
He was responsible for a subdepartment of Chemical Technology which offered a postgraduate diploma and which carried out pilot plant developments in salt manufacture, charcoal production and its byproducts, as well as on clays. The work on clays was done in cooperation with Royal Worcester, UK. and led to the establishment of a factory in Jamaica, just outside Spanish Town. The patterns were labelled Island Worcester.
The Department is host to an International Conference on Natural Products and Medicinal
Chemistry (The Mona Symposium) every two years. The seventeenth was held in January
1998 and the next is scheduled
for January 2000.
Research has always been a major thrust within the Department and staff have published several hundred papers on their work through which the Department has gained international recognition, particularly in the fields of Natural Products Chemistry and Inorganic Reaction Mechanisms.
The Academic Staff of the Department over the years have supervised the work of more than 70 M.Phil. and 50 Ph.D. theses and currently have over 35 Postgraduate students in the M.Phil. and Ph.D. programmes. A description of current staff interests and brief cv's is available.
Research in the Department is funded by the University and by research grants from local and international agencies.
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Created Sept 1994. Last modified 18th January-99.