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Vol. 35 No. 5
September-October 2013

A Short History of Chemical Education in Turkey*

In Turkey, modern chemistry was not introduced until the 19th century, although it was limited to teaching and education since the country had no chemical technology or industry at the time. Chemistry courses were taught in vocational schools, but the scope was limited to providing students with the knowledge of chemistry necessary for their vocation. Scientific research in chemistry in Turkey only began in the late 1920s.

In the 18th century, especially in certain books on medicine and pharmacy, some indirect translations can be seen regarding the new understanding of medicine on the aftermath of the Scientific Revolution, iatrochemistry, distillation, and separation techniques.

The very earliest teaching about chemistry probably occurred at the Imperial Military Engineering School, which opened in 1795. Although there were no formal chemistry courses, some practical information on chemistry and metallurgy were delivered in relation to the technical operation of the gun foundry.

The roots of modern chemistry in Turkey can be traced to the publication of the book Usûl-i Kimya [Elements of Chemistry] in 1848. Written by Dr. Mehmed Emin Dervish Pasha, it is the first independent chemistry book published in Turkey, and it projects the level of chemistry of the period quite well. Chemist Dervish Pasha (1817–1879) had lived in England, spent three years in Paris, and graduated from the École des Mines [Mining School]. After returning to Turkey, he taught physics and chemistry at the War Academy.

At the Imperial Medical School, opened in 1827 and reorganized in 1839, as well as at the Civil Medical School, opened in 1867, courses of chemistry, which kept up with developments in Europe, were taught to the students of medicine and pharmacy. Also in this period, courses of chemistry were being taught at the Imperial Military Engineering School, War Academy, and Halkali Agricultural School. In 1868, Dr. Aziz Idris Beg (1840–1878) published the second Turkish chemistry book. The first volume of this very comprehensive book, which closely aligns with knowledge of chemistry during that time in Europe, was on general chemistry, nonmetals, and compounds. The second volume, published in 1871, was on metals and compounds.

At the Imperial University, established in 1900, chemistry courses were now offered within the curriculum of science education. Through this development, chemistry education found its real place, and within a decade, a chemistry laboratory had opened at the Faculty of Science.

Until 1917, chemistry was taught as an auxiliary course for vocations such as engineering, medicine, pharmacology, and agriculture. Throughout this period, chemistry in Turkey sometimes lagged behind the modern chemistry of Europe and at other times it was more closely aligned with the latest development. During the Ottoman period, chemistry in Turkey was one of the top fields of the fundamental sciences and was able to keep pace with European science. This was a result of Turkish students studying in Europe and visiting professors from Europe.

During the First World War, Istanbul University was reorganized, and in 1915, 20 professors were brought in from Germany. Of these, Dr. Fritz Arndt (1885–1969), Dr. Gustav Fester (1886–1963), and Dr. Kurt Hoesch (1882–1932) were chemists. These German chemistry professors established an Institute of General and Industrial Chemistry in 1917, through which chemical education was independently organized and “Chemist” certificates were awarded. This education program took three years for students to complete and laboratory practices were a large part of the curriculum. The laboratories were kept open throughout the day and the students were able to work in them when they weren’t attending the theoretical courses. This system of education continued until the end of the 1960s.

The German professors had to leave Turkey after the First World War, and education continued with Turkish professors until 1933. Throughout this period, although the curriculum did not change fundamentally, there were some developments. In 1924, an undergraduate program was initiated to educate future high school teachers in physics and chemistry. Starting in 1926, French professors were invited to be visiting professors in Turkey. One of them, Dr. Gabriel Valensi, introduced physical chemistry and electrochemistry into the university curriculum in Turkey for the first time.

In 1933, Istanbul University was reorganized and numerous German refugee professors were hired. One of them, Dr. Fritz Arndt became the director of the General Chemistry Institute, a position he held until 1955. During this period, there was a major German influence on chemical education.

Between 1917–1943, the Faculty of Science at Istanbul University was the only place to receive chemistry education. In 1943, Ankara University Faculty of Science opened a program for the science of chemistry; this became a five-year chemical engineering program in 1948. Starting in 1958, undergraduate programs of chemistry and chemical engineering were offered at Middle East Technical University, Robert College, College of Engineering (Boğaziçi University), and Istanbul Technical University, Maçka Technical School. This was followed by the opening of undergraduate chemistry and chemical engineering programs at Ege University Faculty of Science in 1961, and graduate chemistry and graduate chemical engineering programs at Hacettepe University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, in 1964.

Since 2000, the number of universities in Turkey has rapidly increased. In 2012, there were 165 universities in Turkey, 103 of which are state run and 62 of which are nonprofit private universities. Of these universities, 83 have chemistry departments: 79 are in state universities and 3 are in private universities. Yet, due to the employment problems faced by graduates, student interest in chemistry has declined, and the student quotas of chemistry departments have begun to go unfilled. Under these circumstances, some departments have ceased teaching chemistry.

Emre Dölen <emredolen@gmail.com> is a professor emeritus of analytical chemistry at Faculty of Pharmacy at Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey. His research interest includes history of science and chemistry. He has several studies on history of chemistry in Ottoman times and republican era in Turkey.

*An earlier article, "Chemistry Education Research in Turkey," by Mustafa Sozbilir, appeared in the March-April 2013 Chemistry International.


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