Modern chemistry was born in the second half of the 19th century: in 1860 Cannizzaro presented the atomic weight theory at the Karlsruhe Congress, in 1865 Kekulè identified the benzene ring, in 1869 Mendeleev compiled the first periodic table and in 1874 Vant’Hoff proposed the tetrahedral structure of carbon. From 1863 to 1915, Florence was privileged to host a great chemist of German origin but Florentine by adoption, one of the fathers of modern chemistry: Hugo (Ugo) Schiff (1834-1915). The discoveries that made him famous throughout the world (Schiff bases, Schiff reagent) are still widely used in chemical synthesis and in medicine and biology. The instruments, products and documents by which these discoveries were made, along with the original benches of his laboratory, are still in the “Ugo Schiff” Department of Chemistry, relocated in the mid 2000s in the new Sciences Campus in Sesto Fiorentino.
This group of materials, unique for their typology and coherence and of great historical-scientific value, has been studied and catalogued since 2008 thanks to the Chemical Heritage Project funded by the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.
The Chemistry collections became part of the Museum of Natural History in 2014. The Museum is the ideal institutional framework for them since Schiff personally contributed to the development of Florence’s Institute of Advanced Studies and to aptly the preserve and valorize such valuable historical-scientific material.