The Chemistry Collection

About the Chemistry Collection

The University of Melbourne's Chemistry Collection comprises more than 300 items, dating from the 1850s to the 1960s. These interpret the first century of teaching and research in chemistry at the University.

The collection includes bottles of chemicals, balances, glassware, burners, apparatus for measurement and investigation of gases, paper-based materials, photographic film, slides, catalogues and lecture notes. Many of the items are of historical significance due to their association with key figures in the history of chemistry and science at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, and internationally.

That we can study this collection today is due largely to the efforts of Dr Joan Radford, a member of the School of Chemistry from 1956 to 1980. Knowledge gained while researching her 1978 book, The Chemistry Department of the University of Melbourne: Its contribution to Australian science, 1854-1959, enabled her to recognise the cultural value of much of the unused equipment in the chemistry store. She described and documented the objects, their uses and associations, and in 1980 organised for the collection to be placed on long-term loan with the Science Museum of Victoria, now part of Museum Victoria.

After 27 years the Collection was returned to the University and has been in the care of the University of Melbourne Archives. The collection is intended to return to its original home, the School of Chemistry. In the meantime this virtual museum has been created to allow access to this interesting and significant collection.

Further Reading


Tom O'Donnell, The Kipp Generator: Transforming Chemistry Teaching in the 1950s, Collections, December 2018.

Petronella Nel, Our Chemical Cultural Heritage, Chemistry in Australia, November 2009.


Joan Radford, The Chemistry Department of the University of Melbourne: Its contribution to Australian science, 1854-1959, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1978.

Valda M. McRae, Chemistry @ Melbourne 1960-2000, Melbourne: School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, 2007. Available for purchase.

R.J.W. Selleck, The Shop: The University of Melbourne, 1850-1939, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2003.

Support the Chemistry Collection

Currently the collection is housed away from public access, in the University of Melbourne Archives. Planning and fundraising is underway for a purpose built museum to be created in the redeveloped chemistry building. This site will house rotating exhibitions from the collection, allowing students and the general public the opportunity to experience this incredible collection.

To make a contribution towards the creation of this museum, please contact us.


Building the Chemistry Virtual Museum has been a multifaceted project involving the skills of conservators, collections managers, photographers, researchers, graphic designers, chemists, website developers and database designers. Thanks in particular go to the following people who have all contributed significantly to getting the Chemistry Virtual Museum off the ground: Michelle Gee, Jason Benjamin, Trevor McAllister, Belinda Nemec, Petronella Nel, Lee McRae, Nola Orr, David Ayres, Charlotte Gu, Sarah Harvey, Ken Ghiggino, Valda McRae and Frances Separovic.

The Chemistry Virtual Museum was funded by a Scholarly Information Innovation Grant through the Baillieu Library and the School of Chemistry. The Miegunyah Fund provided support for the safe storage of the items prior to the start of the project.