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Chemical Landmark 2011

The Laboratory of Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac

Designated as «Chemical Landmark» on 13 September 2011.

The third «Chemical Landmark» award in Switzerland went to Geneva: The «Uni Bastions» of the University of Geneva was awarded in honour of the chemist Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac (1817-1894), whose laboratory was located in this building.

Uni Bastions, 5 rue De-Candolle
Uni Bastions, 5 rue De-CandolleImage: BGE, Centre d'iconographie genevoise

Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac descended from a noble family of Languedoc, which took refuge in Geneva in 1733. He studied at the Academy of Geneva (since 1873: University of Geneva) and held a chair from 1841 until his resignation for health reasons in 1878.

Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac
Jean-Charles Galissard de MarignacImage: BGE, Centre d'iconographie genevoise

This renowned scholar owes his fame to the two elements Ytterbium (Yb) and Gadolinium (Gd), which he discovered in the years 1878 and 1880.

Between 1842 and 1883 he also determined the atomic weight of 29 elements with highest precision, i.e. of more than a third of the known elements at that time. His balance is still preserved at the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences in Geneva.

He has conducted his research at both the University and in the laboratory in his private apartment on the Rue Senebier.

Balance of Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac at the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences in Geneva
Balance of Jean-Charles Galissard de Marignac at the Musée d'Histoire des Sciences in GenevaImage: Musée d'Histoire des Sciences de Genève

The ceremony was held on September 13, 2011 in the "Uni Bastions". More than 80 persons followed the invitation, among them many past and present professors, students and collaborators of the Chemistry Department of the University of Geneva, as well as personalities from politics and economy of the metropolitan area of Geneva, and numerous guest of the family de Marignac.

Prof. Dr. Thierry J.-L. Courvoisier, President Elect of SCNAT, warmly welcomed the attendees. Prof. Dr. E. Peter Kündig, member of the Board of the «Platform Chemistry» gave a brief introduction to the program «Chemical Landmarks». In his laudation he acknowledged the lifework and the person of Jean-Charles de Marignac Galissard and his significance for science at his time but also ongoing to the present. The following presentations deepened this image: Gérard de Marignac, historian and direct descendant of J.-C. Galissard de Marignac, gave the historical perspective and a closer view of the honoured from a family-internal perspective (presentation). He also presented a variety of images and works from the estate of J.-C. Galissard de Marignac. Prof. Dr. Claude Piguet of the Department of Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry at the University of Geneva introduced the chemical impact of the work of de Marignac from the 19th Century to the present day.

Chemical Landmark: Le laboratoire de J.-C. Galissard de Marignac
Chemical Landmark: Le laboratoire de J.-C. Galissard de MarignacImage: B. Winter

After the unveiling of the commemorative plaque, Prof. Dr. Jean-Dominique Vassalli, Rector of the University of Geneva, thanked the SCNAT on behalf of the university for the designation and emphasised the importance and tradition of chemistry at the local university.

Press release (German, for the French version please switch to FR [top right of the page])

Media coverage

- SDA, 13.09.2011
- Le Temps, 14.09.2011, p. 14
- Basler Zeitung, 14.09.2011, p. 10
- Journal de l'UNIGE, 15.09.2011, p. 13
- ChemieXtra 2011, 10, p. 8
CHIMIA 2011, 65, p. 984

Nominations for the next round of designations are now open:

Everyone – chemist or non-chemist, historian or non-historian – is encouraged to submit their nomination to the «Platform Chemistry».

The proposals will be reviewed by a committee of chemists, chemical engineers, and science historians.


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