After the foundation of the University of Agriculture in 1919, its activities were split between two domains:economy and forestry. The economic sector (forerunner of the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, later becoming the Agronomic Faculty), integrated also the Institute of Chemistry with the same establishment date as the University of Agriculture. That is why it can commemorate the same hundredth anniversary of its existence as its successor, the Mendel University in Brno, in the current year.
Founder and first head of the Institute of Chemistry became Prof. Dr. Ing. Josef Knop. Except for the short interruption during WW2, the Institute of Chemistry with its general, organic, inorganic and analytical branch ensured education in chemistry down to 1951.
The beginnings of scientific work in the field of chemistry at the University of Agriculture can be traced back to 1922. The research focused upon antimony oxide, more precisely upon the relative atomic mass of antimony, and later upon redox indicators for analytical chemistry. Attention was paid also to the utilization of spectral analytical methods, in particular the spectroscopic analysis of colorants that had to wait for full appreciation until the following period. Yet only five years from the beginnings of the research Professor Knop was awarded a prize of the Czechoslovak Academy of Science and Art from the Antonín Wiehl foundation. Professor Knop made also history as an outstanding academic, having held the office of dean of the economic branch in 195-26, that of rector of the University of Agriculture in 1932-33 and dean of the Agronomic Faculty in 1952-53.
In the course of liberation fight the facilities of the institute were hit by explosion of a bomb shell, causing almost total destruction of the spectral lab with history dating back to 1923. However, the generous support of the ministry of agriculture helped to renew the equipment to the extent of making it the most updated among the university laboratories in Czechoslovakia of those times. The lab of spectroscopy offered its services also to customers from industrial enterprises. In fact, it became the first working place of the University of Agriculture to implement applied research (making use of the present terminology.
1951 saw the fusion of institutes with close specialization, resulting in the establishment of departments. Thus the larger framework of the department of chemical technology now consisted of the former institute, bearing the attribute chemical, and integrating agricultural technologies, lactology, technology of fruit and vegetables and agrochemistry.
In 1953 both technological institutes were divided, thus becoming independent departments. The institute of lactology became part of the faculty of zoology and the institute of agrochemistry part of the faculty of vegetal production. The successor department now bore the name chemical department. After the integration of biochemistry and physical chemistry among the independent teaching subjects further two new institutes were taken up by the department, namely the institute of biochemistry (the latter having been temporarily transferred under the veterinary faculty) and the institute of physics and physical chemistry.
After the retirement of Professor Knop in 1957 associated professor, later Professor RNDr. Karel Marek became head of the department. Two years later, following the establishing of a new faculty of operation technology, the department became part of its organizational structure.
In 1959 the name was changed to department of chemistry and physics. However, the division into three institutes was retained: chemical institute, biochemical institute and institute of physics and physical chemistry.
The longest tradition is that of the chemical institute. Upon the foundation of the University of Agriculture there were two institutes covering the basic field of chemistry, namely the institute of inorganic and organic chemistry under the leadership of extraordinarily appointed professor Dr. ing. Josef Knop, and the institute of analytical chemistry, also with an extraordinarily appointed professor at its head, Dr. ing. Rudolf Hac. The most essential task of the chemical institute consisted in ensuring regular lessons immediately from the first semester of the newly founded university. The highest priority was allotted to the development of appropriate facilities of laboratory exercise. There were not more than two rooms of insufficient capacity intended for general and analytical chemistry, moreover lacking the connection to water mains and to gas service. Within two years, however, the basic drawbacks were removed and the institute was equipped with the necessary furniture, appliances and even with a specialized library containing essential specialized literature. After one year of academic activities in Brno Professor Hac returns to his previous office at the Technical University in Prague and the position of the head of the Institute of analytical chemistry remains unoccupied. Later the institute was divided to the Institute of qualitative analytical chemistry, becoming part of the Institute of general chemistry, and the Institute of quantitative chemistry, integrated in the institute of agrochemistry. Down to the German occupation the Institute of general and analytical chemistry is located under modest conditions of five rooms at the elevated ground floor of the left wing of the main university building at Zemědělská street No 1.Upon the arrival of Nazi to Brno it was first closed and then transferred to facilities of a branch of the Czech Technical University in Brno.
The second of the “trefoil” of institutes of the department of chemistry and physics was the biochemical institute. After the syllabus of biochemistry was taken up as a separate subject, the institute ensured the respective lectures at the faculty of forestry and at both agricultural ones, i.e. the agronomic and the zootechnical faculty. In addition to that the institute ensured the teaching of all chemical subjects except for physical chemistry. Its research focused upon methodological issues of potentiometric and chromatographic determination of L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), the follow-up of its stability in solutions and detection in vegetal material with particular attention to finding varieties of apples containing large amounts of vitamins for better nutrition. Also a number of specialized apparatuses were developed by experts of the institute, such as a high-frequency titration appliance or an automatic titration relays that found also industrial application. A type of vacuum-tube polarograph was successfully innovated and certain features of pointer-type laboratory potentiometers were substantially improved.
The institute of physics and physical chemistry was founded in the academic year 1950–51, after physical chemistry became part of the syllabus as a separate subject. RNDr. Josef Žák, having first acted as an extern teacher, was entrusted with lecturing. He was appointed associated professor of physics and physical chemistry by governmental decree. In 1954 he came to the University of Agriculture from the Research institute for fodder of the Czechoslovak Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The research activities of the institute focused upon working out reliable methodology for physical and physically chemical large-volume series determination of trace elements in fodder plants as well as series determination of the nutritional caloric value of fodder plants in research, control and testing.
After the Institute of physics and physical chemistry had become independent, 1962 saw the establishment of a separate department of physics.
An independent department of biochemistry came to being. The existing department changed name to department of chemistry. A branch of the University of Agriculture was established at Jihlava. Its component part was the department of chemistry under the head of Ing. Vojtěch Štajgr. The common denominator of the cooperation of both chemical departments consisted in teaching. Scientific and investigative activities followed in the footsteps of the preceding period, in particular by applying analytical methods to soil and biological material and by developing appropriate methods for the determination of micro-elements in such materials.
70ies of the 20th century
Due to organizational changes the independent department in Jihlava became a section within the department in Brno; together they ensured lecturing in both cities for all faculties of the University of those times.
Associate Professor Ing. Lubor Vacek, CSc. took over the position of the head of department after Professor Marek. The facilities of the department were substantially refurbished in that period. Separate labs for the lecturers and for research were established; the lab for physical chemistry was equipped, labs for students were provided, the library of the department was given separate rooms. A shift towards improved education was the specialization of teachers for certain subjects across all faculties of the school both in ordinary and extra-mural studies.
The scientific and research activities focused upon studying the degradation of fodder related to the duration of being kept at stock and the preservation method applied, following the contents of some elements and some matter in the forest eco-systems. In many cases these studies resulted in developing appropriate analytical methods, such as titration and photometric determination of tannins (cutch in forest soils), photometric determination combined with distillation of volatile phenolic matter (vegetal fodder) etc.
The independent functioning of the department of biochemistry (established in 1964 within the branch of zootechnology of the agronomic faculty), whose head became associate professor, later Professor, RNDr. Ing. Jiří Pavel, DrSc., was terminated in 1970. The department was dissolved and integrated into the department of anatomy and physiology of farm animals, which was renamed to department of anatomy, physiology and livestock biochemistry.The main tasks of biochemical research consisted in studying biochemical features of farm animals, in particular the blood proteins, enzymes and further component parts of blood, following the applicability of biochemical testing for the selection and improvement of properties of livestock, as well as evaluation of the impact of agro-environmental factors upon the protein structure of the vernal barley grain.
h2 style="margin-left:0cm; margin-right:0cm; text-align:justify">80ies of the 20th century
In 1980 biochemistry was transferred to the newly organized department of chemistry and biochemistry.
In the same year it was also transferred from the faculty of management and operation to the agronomic faculty. Its head was associated professor Ing. Lubor Vacek, CSc. The department had two working places, one in Brno and the other in Jihlava. The staff consisted of roughly 23 persons. Regarding research, the main specialization during the first half of this decade were environmental issues, in particular studying the impact of environmental conditions upon the biochemical and physiological systems of freely living animals, and further investigating the impact of anthropogenic emissions upon the contents of nutrients in the ecosystems of forests and grassland.
The end of the 80ies of the 20th century brought not only changes in society, but also in the leading level of the school and its organizational component parts. The departments were transformed to institutes. Prof. Dr. Ing. Jiří Pavel, Ph.D., who held the post of pro-rector for building and development at that time, was appointed head of the Institute of chemistry and biochemistry.
In the course of his office many facilities were renovated, among others also two new labs for students were implemented. Concerning research the members of the institute focused upon urgent environmental projects. The results of their work were appreciated not only among domestic scholars, but also by international academics.
90ies of the 20th century
Prof. RNDr. Vlastimil Kubáň, DrSc.took over the leading of the department after Prof. Pavel had retired. Prof. Kubáň made use of his experience at the Masaryk University as well as his foreign scholarships in that he managed to acquire the support of various grant agencies and sources of funds intended for research. In the course of his office the institute focused in particular upon the development of instrumental analytical methods and their utilization. The attention was oriented to the domains of identification and determination of natural matter in the biological material (both vegetal and animal) and in the component parts of environment, further to the determination of metallic ions and the anions of inorganic and low-molecular organic acids as well as the analysis of species present in the components of the environment. Conforming to the considerable number of students also the teaching capacity of the institute increased, since it ensured education for three faculties (Faculty of Agronomy, Faculty for Forestry and Wood Management and Gardening Faculty). In addition to subjects of the theoretical foundation some specialized subjects achieved accreditation (such as special biochemical methods, environmental toxicology, environment chemistry) and also optional seminars. Existing laboratories were modernized in stages and two new ones were implemented in rooms released by the faculty of forestry and wood management. All that enabled substantial improvement of the whole process of education. Further also doctoral studies were developing.
Beginnings of the 21st century
In 2004 RNDr. Petr Hrdlička, Ph.D. (since 2006 associate professor) took over the leadership, following his predecessor´s concept in his footsteps. This period saw the development of pedagogy and the educational orientation was adapted to suit the changes in the accreditation of the study domains of the school.
A special seminar room fully equipped with didactic technology for 24 students was implemented.
The staffing of the institute was gradually growing, which was reflected in increasing numbers of research topics. Academics had a considerably free hand in choosing their scientific focus. The group under the methodological leadership of Professor Kubáň continued in the development of analytical methods. They succeeded to work out an apparatus for combined technologies of through-flow injection analysis and capillary electrophoretic function (FI-CE) with contactless conductometric detector (C4D) on the one hand, and on-line connected liquid chromatograph with atomic fluorescent spectrometry (HPLC-AFS) on the other hand. Another direction was the development of gas chromatography, and especially liquid chromatography together with the development of correlated extraction methods. A dedicated group was established under the leadership of Bořivoj Klejdus (now Prof. RNDr. Bořivoj Klejdus, PhD). The objects of their scientific interest were primary and secondary metabolites of plants. Gradually also specialized laboratories were implemented for this branch that were provided with apparatuses of appropriate quality and precision, corresponding with the requirements for instrumental labs of those times.
The third orientation was the development of electrochemical methods at the boundary between chemistry with biochemistry and molecular biology. This challenge was taken up by the only just starting young generation, represented e.g., by RNDr. Vojtěch Adam. The interest aimed at the study of interactions between heavy metals and proteins and upon electro-mechanic bio-sensors. The development in all three directions involved international participation. The primary output consisted in quite numerous publications in internationally acknowledged periodicals and in contributions at conferences. The laboratories were modernized with the purpose of supporting research, and also a source of nitrogen (as protective atmosphere in the laboratory devices) was provided, and namely by implementing a liquid nitrogen tank with about 4000 kg capacity. However, this period in the life of the institute can be characterized as a preparatory one for the future massive development, especially concerning the research activities of the present.
2012 – present day
In 2012 Associate Professor RNDr. Vojtěch Adam, Ph.D. (later Professor) became head of the institute. In the course of 2012–2019 further restructuring interventions reflected the need to provide a structure corresponding with the research challenges as well as with the growth of the staff that has exceeded the magic level of 100 persons at the beginning of 2019.
The essential vision of research, development and innovation can be characterized by the support of advanced processes and technologies in biological chemistry. A number of research groups work to meet the targets, focusing upon the key domains, bioanalytical chemistry, algae, vegetal biotechnologies and, last but not least, experimental microbial and animal biochemistry and biology. The first field, bioanalytical chemistry, deals with the investigation and development of detection procedures and platforms for the analysis of a broad scale of various materials, beginning with heavy metals, such as mercury, lead or cadmium, over low-molecular metabolites down to macromolecular biomarkers of serious diseases.
Not less importance is allotted to the focus upon non-invasive diagnostics in the field of medicine and the development of the respective instruments, using not only electrochemical, but also optic detection techniques (spectrophotometry and fluoresce) including fluorescent imaging methods. The shared common elements of this key domain are clever nanomaterials, and not only with respect to their utilization for the above purposes, but also for their characterization and the study of interactions with biomolecules.
The second field is the research and development of advanced micro-materials and nanomaterials, and namely both considering the mentioned purposes, and the societal urgency of studying their interactions with biomolecules in vivo. In addition to this issue the institute also develops materials having antimicrobial and anti-oncological features or, on the other hand, properties supporting the growth and the development of certain vegetal and animal organisms. Attention is further devoted to biotechnologies related to algae and other vegetal biotechnologies with focus upon the study of low-molecular primary and secondary metabolites and their interactions with epigenetic mechanisms (in particular the small ones that do not code RNA and methylation) under diversified environmental conditions. A separate research topic in this domain is the study of the impact of nanotechnologies on the growth and development of plants and micro-algae.
The last field of interest is design and testing of materials for targeted transport of chemotherapeutic matter in vitro and in vivo, including materials enabling transcytosis by overcoming the haema-encephalic barrier. Special attention is being devoted to boosting the effectivity of suggested therapeutic procedures, such as the mechanisms of chemo-resistant tumour cells and also metabolites affecting the aggressiveness and the success rate of therapy of tumour diseases. An important part of this field is a plurality of research laboratories dealing with the search for alternatives of antibiotic drugs, the study of complex microbiomes, but also the potential utilization of microbial enzymes in environmental applications.
The pedagogic activities of the Institute of chemistry and biochemistry include both undergraduate studies and post-gradual doctoral studies. The teaching of chemical subjects is ensured for students of three faculties of the MENDEL UNIVERSITY: the Agronomic Faculty has six bachelor curricula and ten curricula of ordinary studies, three combined with master´s syllabi, the Forestry and Wood Management faculty provides six bachelor curricula and seven of ordinary studies, the Gardening Faculty has two curricula and three of ordinary studies. The education has the form of lectures, of practical laboratory exercises and seminars. The subjects are obligatory, obligatorily optional and seven are fully optional.
As concerns educational activities, the institute is most engaged in the curriculum Chemistry and technology of food, and also Molecular biology and biotechnology, and namely both in bachelor studies and the follow-up master´s study. The education in these domains is continuously enriched by the results of the above mentioned research orientations. As a rule, about 15 students apply for admission to the post-gradual program Agricultural chemistry as a direct follow-up of their discipline.
100 years of the history of the Institute of chemistry and biochemistry brought numbers of changes and adaptations. The good wishes for the coming 100 years can be summed up roughly so: May all further interventions into the structure and management be beneficial, in order that the Institute of chemistry and biochemistry can develop with the same pace as it has done down to the present day. This requires devoted and motivated employees and students who are the actual soul of this workplace.
The main source of this text is the manuscript of Associated Professor RNDr. Petr Hrdlička, PhD (Brno 1986), and the author deserves warmest thanks for having kindly provided the same, as well as for his valuable comments, the overall revision and for his complements. The names of organizational components of the University reflect current usage and spelling of those times.