About institute

The Institute of Physical Chemistry (IChF)

The Institute of Physical Chemistry acting under the umbrella of the Polish Academy of Sciences is the leading research institution dealing with various aspects of chemistry. Funded in 1955, is among the best scientific units in Poland, according to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. IPC PAS has the right to use the “HR Excellence in Research” designation that confirms the highest standards in the recruitment of scientists, support in their career development and engagement of the Institute to the society.

IChF hosts multiple interdisciplinary groups that work at the border of chemistry, physics and biology. In such a vibrant environment new ideas are being developed from basic science to applications, including a number of active spin-off companies. Each year, the scientific output of IChF includes more than 200 publications (incl. Nature, Science, JACS etc.) and a number of patents. The Institute is involved in the education of a new generation of scientists. It is home to two PhD schools and MSc students are given the opportunity to work at the frontiers of science via fellowships offered.

IChF is a hub for scientific excellence. The Dream Chemistry Award (DCA) is granted each two years jointly with IOCB in Prague to a young scientist for an idea of a scientific project that she/he dreams to solve. In the framework of DCA, the Dream Chemistry Lecture series allows young – yet already recognised – scientists to deliver exciting talks that are open to the scientific community in Warsaw.

The History of the Institute of Physical Chemistry PAS

The Institute of Physical Chemistry, the Polish Academy of Sciences (IChF) was established in 1955. The foundation stone of the Institute buildings at the corner of Warsaw's Marcina Kasprzaka and Plocka Streets was laid on 13th June 1959. It was the first established chemical institute of the PAS. The establishment of the Institute was initiated by Professors Wojciech Świętosławski, a world-famous thermochemist, and the eminent electrochemist Michał Śmiałowski. The former became Director of the Institute and Chairman of its Scientific Board and the latter - Deputy Director for Scientific Affairs. The original structure of the Institute consisted of 7 scientific departments and from the very beginning it began to evolve (a link to the structure in particular years can be found below) reflecting, on one hand, the needs of the country and the scientific community and, on the other hand, the passions of the scientists directing the research in the Institute itself. The Institute's current research structure is presented HERE (link to the list of departments/groups). The subject matter of the undertaken research has also evolved in line with global scientific trends.

Its own mechanical workshops

Conducting experimental scientific research in the field of physical chemistry often requires the construction of complex research equipment. Therefore, the Institute was equipped with large mechanical workshops (in a modified form existing until today) with their own design office, an advanced glass-making workshop with 8 workstations with a flame treatment machine, an electrical workshop and even a joinery. A little later an electronics workshop appeared. Highly qualified workshop staff met the unconventional needs of scientists and often provided advice on developing prototype solutions. In later years, the workshops carried out low-volume commercial production of devices designed by the Institute's scientists - liquid chromatographs and quartz microbalances.

Library facilities

It is difficult to conduct scientific research without good library facilities. In the first years of the Institute's operation, the library of the IChF was located in the Staszic Palace. Between 1957 and 1965 it moved to the sixth floor of the Palace of Culture and Science and since 1965 it has been located in the current location of the Institute. Senior academics remember that at that time, reviews of literature were carried out in the reading room of the library, tediously studying the fine print of fat volumes of Chemical Abstracts, which contained records of countless scientific publications together with short summaries of the most important theses and results. These summaries were all written following the same pattern by a huge number of scientists from all possible fields of chemistry - scattered around the world. Several of them worked on a daily basis at the Institute of Physical Chemistry. After finding a publication, usually, all you had to do was look on the shelf of the library's fantastic book collection to find the full text of the publication. If a particular journal was not in the book collection, helpful librarians would start their behind-the-scenes search procedures and would soon provide the appropriate volume or photocopy for a short period and then a photocopy of the article. At the end of the eighties, the possibility of computer searching for published abstracts appeared. You would just submit a search profile to the library and the central computer, located probably in Wrocław, would print lists of published novelties together with abstracts on wide bands of folded paper. Unfortunately, retrospective searches were not available. In the era of today's IT facilities for literature searches, it is hard to imagine that it could have been so much slower and more difficult in the past. Nowadays, it’s a rare occasion when a publication cannot be found on the Internet and its author does not send us the copy we asked for, for some unknown reason. And then help again arrives from the librarians who still have their undercover methods of retrieving publications which are difficult to access.

The first computers at the IChF

For many years the computational equipment supporting scientific work at the IChF, and not only there, was limited to logarithmic and mechanical slide rules or electrical arithmometers. In 1975, the Institute was connected to the Control Data Corporation’s Cyber 73 mainframe machine, which appeared at the Institute for Nuclear Research in Świerk near Warsaw, or more precisely at the Cyfronet Environmental Computing Centre. It was known affectionately as “Sedes” (toilet seat in Polish) – from the name of its manufacturer CDC. Initially, the Institute had an electromechanical TTY terminal with an analogue link, which was not particularly user-friendly. A decade later a medium-speed terminal with a blue monitor and perforated card reader was installed, which made counting on Sedes much easier and more pleasant. In addition, the Institute purchased a rather unreliable Mera minicomputer with its own base of hard drives the size of a small fridge. Less demanding scientists counted on the Hewlett-Packard 9820A desktop calculator equipped with a BASIC language interpreter, 8 KB of operating memory, a one-line display, a thermal printer, a plotter, devices for recording programs and data on cassette tapes and a set of electronic cartridges with sub-programs for the matrix account, operations on character chains and fixed-point operations. It was a great precursor of the personal computer, which appeared at the Institute in the second half of the eighties and completely changed the accounting face of everyday life.

PhD Studies

The Institute always participated in the formation of Polish science staff by conducting prestigious Doctoral Studies, which could be undertaken by passing a written entrance exam in the full range of physical chemistry. Before taking the exam, a candidate for a PhD student would choose the department where they wanted to study and their future supervisor, who obviously had to give his or her initial consent to accept the proposed student. Frequently, the supervisor would require an accepted PhD student to become more familiar with the scientific activity of the department or laboratory and he himself would propose the subject of his future doctoral thesis. Doctoral studies lasted three years with the possibility of extension for a fourth year provided that the supervisor's opinion was positive. After the second year of studies, each PhD student would sit a mid-term exam in physical chemistry and a foreign language, during which a committee selected from among the Institute's professors and lecturers could ask about everything. An unwritten custom mitigated this rigour by stipulating that the questions should be broadly related to the subject of the doctoral thesis of the examined person. PhD students developed their language skills during classes conducted by the Study of Foreign Languages of the Polish Academy of Sciences in the Palace of Culture and Science. Doctoral students of the past did not have their own Student’s Council, but despite this, still formed a close-knit group at the Institute, which, if necessary, selected ad hoc delegates to solve various burning issues. Incidentally, I wonder if anyone can these days imagine creating a doctoral thesis or a scientific publication using a mechanical typewriter and tediously correcting errors by the sophisticated methods of scratching and rubbing out? Or perhaps drawing diagrams with a radiograph?

Staff Health Care

From its beginnings, the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences provided health care for its employees. It employed an on-site company doctor, nurse and dentist, who saw patients at the appointed hours. For many years the doctor was Dr Leonard Minor, head of the Analytical Laboratory of Wolski Hospital and an excellent diagnostician, who was able to see in advance the signs of an upcoming disease in a patient. Additionally, the staff had access to specialist doctors in the outpatient clinic of the Polish Academy of Sciences in the Staszic Palace and to the outpatient clinic operating there. After Dr. Minor's retirement, other doctors, a physician-cardiologist and an occupational physician worked at the Institute for some time. After the closure of the Polish Academy of Sciences' outpatient clinic, the Institute decided to change the formula of health care to the one currently in force.

Palace in Świdno

In 1970, the Institute of Physical Chemistry took over and restored the 17th-century classicist palace in Świdno on the Pilica River. The palace, built and surrounded by a beautiful park by the Świdziński family, was nationalized after World War II and then devastated by subsequent barbaric users. The Institute took over the palace with the intention of placing the Threshold Signals Laboratory in it, so that it could conduct its research at a site free from electromagnetic interference. In addition to the laboratory, there were several guest rooms in the palace where employees of the Institute could spend their weekends and holidays. The palace also had a ballroom. At the end of the 1980s, the Institute returned the palace to its pre-war owners.

Sports activities at the IChF

As part of the Polish Academy of Sciences, there was a branch of the Society for the Promotion of Physical Culture and Tourism (PTTK), which co-financed various sports and sightseeing initiatives of the staff. As a result, informal sports clubs operated at the Institute of Physical Chemistry - skiing, Shotokan karate, equestrian, volleyball, sailing and bridge clubs. There was also an independent sailing club included in the structures of PTTK. The annual kayaking on the Dunajec River, in which the military surplus landing pontoon also participated, has become legendary.

Trade Unions

There has always been a trade union at the Institute of Physical Chemistry. In the beginning, it was the Polish Teachers' Union (ZNP), officially assigned to the staff of the Polish Academy of Sciences, probably because someone important associated the word "academy" with education. ZNP dealt with the social matters of staff, granted benefits for such events as the birth of an employee's child or the death of a family member, random events adversely affecting the material conditions of the immediate family, etc. In the autumn, the union would make it easier for employees to stock up for winter by organising deliveries of apples, plums, onions and potatoes. Some active members were able to effectively help workers who fell into the clutches of addiction and the disciplinary problems that resulted. In October 1980, shortly after the social phenomenon of Solidarity was born in Poland, a branch of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity was founded in the Institute, which was joined by a large number of employees of all levels, from professors to workshop staff. The ZNP coexisted for some time with Solidarity on the premises of the Institute and then disappeared. The Institute of Physical Chemistry’s Solidarity union functioned within the huge microregion of Warsaw's Wola, consisting of tens of thousands of union members, which included, among others, huge workplaces that do not exist today, such as Waryński, Nowotko, Świerczewski and Kasprzak. It dealt with both typical trade union matters as well as social and political activities on a national scale. In the murky period of martial law, the Institute organisation together with the entire Union went underground and functioned, dealing with both the issues of the Institute's staff and wide-ranging activities in the field of publishing and distributing underground press and books, material aid to people persecuted for union activity in various regions of Poland, youth education, helping Solidarity leaders who were in hiding from the state authorities, organising cultural and discussion meetings, and cooperating with other Solidarity organizations at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Shortly after the kidnapping of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, the Polish Academy of Sciences branch of Solidarity organised a guard detachment on the premises of the Church of Saint Stanisław Kostka in Żoliborz, which through its constant and numerous presence in the church and rectory effectively protected them against the actions of so-called unknown perpetrators. The PAS group, the second largest group after the steelworkers from Huta Warszawa, was led by employees of the Institute of Physical Chemistry.

Prepared by: Dr Krzysztof Rudziński

IChF logo until 2020.

Historical Structure of the IPC PAS

  • Department I. Solid-state Physical Chemistry, from 1964 (Prof. Dr. Bogdan Baranowski)
    • Laboratory of Solids and Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes
    • Metal Theory Laboratory (Prof. Dr. Stanisław Olszewski)
  • Department II. Physicochemical  Analytical Methods, from 1964 (Prof. Dr Wiktor Kemula)
    • Laboratory of Photochemistry and Chemical Optics (Assistant Prof. Dr Zbigniew R. Grabowski)
    • Laboratory of Electrode Processes (Assistant Prof. Dr. B. Behr),
    • Chromatography Laboratory (Dr. Danuta Sybilska)
  • Department III. Physical Chemistry of Basic Organic Raw Materials, up to 1965
    • Physical Chemistry of Non-Electrolyte Solutions, from 1965 (Assistant Prof. Dr. Władysław Malesiński)
    • Laboratory of Gases and Liquids Theory (Assistant Prof. Dr. Jan Stecki)
    • Laboratory of Phase Equilibria (Assistant Prof. Dr. A. Kręglewski)
    • Thermochemistry Laboratory (Dr. W. Wóycicki)
    • Microcalorimetry Laboratory, from 1967 (Dr. Wojciech Zielenkiewicz)
  • Department IV. Physical Chemistry of Surface Phenomena up  to 1967
    • Calorimetry from 1967 (Prof. Dr. Wojciech Zielenkiewicz)
    • Department V. Catalysis on Metals (Prof. Dr. Wacława Palczewska)
    • Catalysis Laboratory
    • X-ray and Electronography Laboratory (A. Janko M.Sc.)
  • Department VI. Electrode Processes, 1960 – 1962 (Prof. Dr. Michał Śmiałowski up to 1961),
    • Electrochemistry and Corrosion, from 1962 (Prof. Dr. Zuzanna Śmiałowska)
  • Department VII. Physicochemical Basics of Technology (Prof. Dr. Stanisław Bretsznajder 1967, Assistant Prof. Tadeusz Adamski 1967)
    • Laboratory (Prof. Dr. Włodzimierz Bobrownicki).
  • Department VIII. Physical Chemistry of Basic Organic Raw Materials, up to 1964
    • Physical Chemistry of Non-Electrolyte Solutions, from 1965 (Prof. Dr Andrzej Bylicki 1963-1984)
  • Multicomponent Mixture Laboratory, 1965 – (Dr. S. Malanowski)
  • Laboratory of Separation and Purification Methodology
  • Laboratory of Studies of Technological Processes (Dr. Andrzej Mączyński)
  • Independent Laboratory IX of Physical Chemistry of Mineral Fertilizers, from 1964
  • Independent Laboratory X of Industrial Waste Technologies, from 1964
  • Independent Laboratory XI of Electronics, from 1965
  • Department I. Solid-state Physical Chemistry (Prof. Dr. Bogdan Baranowski
  • Department II. Physicochemical  Analytical Methods, from 1973 (Prof. Dr. Barbara Behr
  • Department III. Physical Chemistry of Non-Electrolyte Solutions, from 1971 (Prof. Dr. Jan Stecki)
  • Department IV. Calorimetry (Prof. Dr. Wojciech Zielenkiewicz)
  • Department  V. Catalysis on Metals (Prof. Dr. Wacława Palczewska)
  • Department VI. Electrochemistry and  Corrosion (Prof. Dr. Zuzanna Śmiałowska, from 1982 Prof. Dr. Janusz Flis)
    • Electrochemistry Laboratory (Prof. Dr. Janusz Flis)
    • Corrosion Protection Laboratory (Dr. Józef Mieluch)
  • Department VII. Basics of Chemical Engineering , from 1971 (Prof. Dr. Dariusz Ziólkowski)
  • Department VIII. Physical Chemistry of Non-Electrolyte Solutions (Prof. Dr. Stanisław Malanowski 1985)
  • Department IX. Photochemistry and Spectroscopy, from 1973 (Prof. Dr. Zbigniew R. Grabowski)
  • Department of Electrode Processes (rotationally Prof. Dr. Zofia Borkowska, Prof. Dr. Maria Janik-Czachor, Assistant Prof. Dr Piotr Żółtowski) 1978
  • Independent Laboratory XI of Electronics, from 1965
  • Independent Molten Salts Laboratory, from 1971 (Prof. Dr. Leszek Suski).
  • Independent Chemical Kinetics Laboratory, from 1982 (Prof. Dr. Jan Popielawski
  • Independent Laboratory of Quantum Theory of Solids, from 1985 (Prof. Dr. Stanisław Olszewski)
  • Independent Process Kinetics Laboratory from 1981 (Prof. Dr. Wanda Pasiuk-Bronikowska)
  • Independent Laboratory of Threshold Signals, from 1972 (Assistant Prof. Dr. Józef Koszewski)
  • Independent Laboratory of Applied Physical Chemistry, from 1972 (Dr. Roman Stryjek)
  • CHEMIPAN R&D Laboratories, from 1972 (Wojciech Kulicki M.Sc. 1972 – 1983, Marek Cieślak M.Sc. 1983); (up to 1982 the Institute of Organic Chemistry PAS was co-owner of Chemipan)
  • Department of Physical Chemistry (Dr. Jan Małczyñski – 1976, Marek Cieślak M.Sc. 1976-1995, Dr. Andrzej Cybulski 1995)
  • Department of Chemistry (Zdzisław Bruszewski  M.Sc. – 1978, Wojciech Kulicki M.Sc.1978-1982, Dr. Teresa Bolesławska 1983-1995, Dr. Marek Włostowski 1995-2000, Dr hab. Jerzy Raczko 2000)
  • Department I. Solid-state Physical Chemistry (Prof. Dr. Bogdan Baranowski, from 1997, Prof. Dr. Stanisław Filipek)
  • Department II. Physical Chemistry of Supramolecular Complexes, from 1994 (Prof. Dr. Janusz Lipkowski)
  • Department III. Physical Chemistry of Non-electrolyte Solutions, from 1971-1997 (Prof. Dr. Jan Stecki)
    • Physical Chemistry of Fluids and Soft Matter, from 1997 (Prof. Dr. Robert Hołyst)
    • Physical Chemistry of Soft Matter, from 2003 (Prof. Dr. Robert Hołyst)
  • Department IV. Calorimetry up to 2003 (Prof. Dr. Wojciech Zielenkiewicz)
    • Chemical Dynamics, from 2003.
  • Department V. Catalysis on Metals (from 1992 Prof. Zbigniew Karpiński, from 2018 Dr. hab. Zbigniew Kaszkur)
  • Department VI. Electrochemistry and Corrosion up to 2003 (Prof. Dr. Janusz Flis)
    • Electrochemistry, Corrosion and Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, from 2003 (prof. dr Tadeusz Zakroczymski)
  • Department VII. Basics of Chemical Engineering, up to 2003 (Prof. Dr. Dariusz Ziółkowski)
    • Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, from 2003
    • Electrode Processes, from 2004
  • Department VIII. Basic Organic Raw Materials, up to 1994 (Prof. Dr. Stanisław Malanowski)
    • Applied Thermodynamics, from 1994 to 2004
    • Electrochemical Oxidation of Gaseous Fuels, from 2004
  • Department IX. Photochemistry and Spectroscopy, from 1973 (Prof. Dr. Jacek Waluk)
  • Department X of Quantum Solid State Theory
    • Quantum Theory of Solids and Molecules,  from 2004
  • Department XI of Molten Salts, from 1994 to 2003 (Prof. Dr. Leszek Suski)
  • Department XIII of Chemical Dynamics from 1994 to 2003, from 2003 Department IV
  • Department XIV of Process Kinetics, from 1994 to 2004 (Prof. Dr. Wanda Pasiuk-Bronikowska) in 2004 incorporated into Department V
  • Department XV Quantum Solid State Theory, from 1994 (Prof. dr Stanisław Olszewski) in 1994 amended to Department X
  • Department XVI of  Electrode Processes, from 1994 (Prof. dr Zofia Borkowska, Prof. dr Maria Janik-Czachor, Assistant Prof. Dr. Piotr Żółtowski)
  • Department XVII of Physical Chemistry of Surfaces, from 1994 to 2003 (Prof. Dr. Aleksander Jabłoński) in 2003 incorporated into Department VI
  • CHEMIPAN R&D Laboratories, from 1972 (Marek Cieślak M.Sc. 1983 – 200?, Dr hab. Jerzy Raczko 2000– 2018, Tomasz Miśkiewicz M.Sc. – 2018 – 2019, Dr. Jarosław Frydel 2019)