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timeline of major events

1833 The Oberlin Collegiate Institute is established. The founders, John J. Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart, formed the college “for the diffusion of useful science, sound morality, and pure religion among the growing multitudes of the Mississippi Valley.”

1834 James Dacomb, a graduate of the Dartmouth Medical School, becomes professor of chemistry, botany, and physiology. During the 19th century, a revolution in college education took place as science became part of the curriculum, and Oberlin was in the vanguard of this movement. Before this time, college instruction consisted primarily of classical languages and literatures, mathematics, history, philosophy, and religion.

1838 Old Laboratory, built according to plans obtained by Professor Dascomb when he was a student at Dartmouth and Yale, becomes the home of Oberlin science.

1838 The Rev. George Whipple becomes the first instructor of mathematics and natural philosopy, the precursors to physics at Oberlin.

1848 Oberlin's first course in geology is offered. Except for one year when there was no geology instructor (1873-74), courses have been offered continuously ever since.

1850 The Oberlin Collegiate Institute changes its name to Oberlin College.

1860 The College offers a total of 19 science courses in several disciplines.

1874 Albert A. Wright, Class of 1865, is hired as professor of geology and natural history. Wright increased the number of geology courses offered and, in essence, formed the geology department, which had previously been linked with the theology department. He later headed the botany and zoology departments, and he was instrumental in the organization of the College's nationally renowned herbarium, which began with Professor Dascomb's plant collection.

1874 Elisha Gray returns to Oberlin to teach. Almost simultaneously with Alexander Graham Bell, Gray—who had studied at Oberlin—discovered the principle of the conversion of sound waves into electrical energy. He was known for his inventions in telephony and telegraphy. In 1872, he founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, parent firm of the present Western Electric Company. Upon his return to Oberlin, he continued his independent research and invention. In 1878 he was awarded an honorary degree and in 1880 was given the honorary title of professor of dynamic electricity.

1878 The chemistry department moves to Cabinet Hall.

1878 Professor William K. Kedzie introduces laboratory instruction in chemistry courses, which to this date had consisted largely of lectures and demonstrations.

1881 Professor Albert A. Wright introduces the use of the compound microscope in science classes at Oberlin. Wright is generally credited with being the first modern scientific mind at Oberlin College because he recognized the importance of new scientific methods that called for specialized equipment and higher scientific standards.

1885 Peters Hall is built as a home for the physics and astronomy laboratories.

1886 Charles Martin Hall (class of 1885) discovers the electrochemical method of extracting aluminum metal from its ore.

1886 A course in Quantitative Chemical Analysis is taught at Oberlin for the first time.

1889 Professor Albert A. Wright publishes his “Preliminary List of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Lorain County, Ohio.” By 1897, the herbarium contained 35,000 specimens, representing about 14,000 species, and it had become a national resource for botanists.

1890 The department of physics and astronomy is created as a separate branch of mathematics.

1891 The botany department moves to Finney House.

1891 A course in organic chemistry is added to the chemistry curriculum.

1893 Botany becomes a separate department within the College.

1895 Laboratory work in chemistry becomes mandatory.

1897 Professor Herbert L. Jones expands the botany department's emphasis to include plant histology, physiology, morphology, and ecology, and he offers students opportunities to do professional work or teacher training.

1901 The chemistry department moves from Cabinet Hall to Severance Chemical Laboratory.

1904 The botany department moves to the Second Botany Laboratory.

1907 The geology department moves into First Geology Laboratory.

1908 Spear Library is remodeled as the zoology laboratory and the library is moved to the Carnegie Building.

1910 Samuel R. Williams is given the first chair in physics.

1914 To make way for the Cox Administration Building, Second Botany Laboratory is moved to a new site and joined to an existing building, creating Third Botany Laboratory.

1915 The First Geology Laborartory makes way for the Second Geology Laboratory.

1919 Professor Lynds Jones and his students travel in a co-ed convoy of Model-T Fords to the western United States for a summer field trip. Thus began the tradition of involving students in research in the biology department.

1923 Robert Millikan (class of 1891) receives the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on electrical charges and photoelectric effects.

1924 Chemistry Professor Harry N. Holmes, in a letter to the editor of the Journal of Chemical Education, persuasively defends the need for college professors to pursue research just like their counterparts at universities.

1927 The zoology laboratory moves into a newly remodeled church building that is renamed Wright Zoological Laboratory in honor of Professor Albert A. Wright.

1942 Professor Harry N. Holmes is elected president of the American Chemical Society, largely in recognition of his work to strengthen the chemistry major and chemical research at Oberlin.

1942 The Wilbur and Orville Wright Laboratory of Physics, named for the aviation pioneers, is built. The two men, neither of whom attended college, learned physics from their younger sister, Katharine Wright Haskell, who graduated from Oberlin with a degree in Greek and Latin in 1898. Friends and colleagues considered Katharine a third member of the pioneering team.

1958 Summer research with paid student assistants becomes a regular program in chemistry department.

1960 Oberlin's geography department is merged into the geology department.

1961 Kettering Hall, a state-of-the-art science building, is built.

1961 The botany and zoology departments are merged into the biology department.

1963 The geology department moves into Severance Chemical Laboratory.

1964 The physics department acquires an IBM 1620, the first major computer on campus. A separate computing center was established in 1965.

1972 Oberlin and Amherst College become the first undergraduate schools to offer a major in neuroscience.

1973 Oberlin dedicates its first electron microscope in honor of Emeritus Biology Professor Hope Hibbard, who taught at Oberlin from 1928 to 1961.

1973 The computing center moves from the physics department to the Houck Computing Center in Mudd Center.

1980 The World Health Organization is successful in its effort to eradicate smallpox worldwide. Donald A. Henderson '50 spearheaded the effort.

1981 Roger Sperry '35 shares the Nobel Prize in medicine/physiology for his research on the functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

1987 Professor Norman C. Craig ’53 is awarded the Chemical Manufacturers Association Catalyst Award for extraordinary teaching.

1986 Stanley Cohen '45 shares the Nobel Prize in medicine/physiology for the discovery and characterization of proteins that promote and help regulate cell growth.

1986 The chemistry department is one of the first college chemistry departments to acquire a 200-MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer.

1988 A biochemistry major is initiated at Oberlin.

1990 The geology department moves from Severance to the Carnegie Building.

1991 Oberlin purchases Camden Bog, a 19-acre restoration ecology center near Oberlin. A fund to maintain the site is established by the sale of the College's herbarium to the Ohio State Biodiversity Center. Camden Bog is used by students in biology and environmental studies classes.

1994 The physics laboratories in the basement of the Wright Laboratory of Physics are thoroughly renovated.

1996 Professor Norman Craig is awarded the American Chemical Society's Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.

1996 Planning for the Oberlin Science Center begins.

1996 Professor Martin Ackermann is awarded the Chemical Manufacturers Association Catalyst Award for extraordinary teaching.

1997 The chemistry department becomes one of the first college departments to own an X-ray diffraction instrument.

1998 The chemistry department acquires instrumentation for Fourier-Transform Raman/Infrared spectroscopy.

1999 Professor Robert Warner receives the Prize to a Faculty Member for Research at an Undergraduate Institution from the American Physical Society.

1999 Ground is broken for the Oberlin Science Center.

2001 The neuroscience program acquires a confocal microscope, and the College obtains a scanning electron microscope for use in the biology, geology, and physics departments.

2002 Physics World magazine, published by the Institute of Physics, includes Robert Millikan's pathbreaking oil-drop experiment, which measured the charge of electrons, in its list of the “10 most beautiful experiments” of all time. Millikan's work ranked third.

2002 Oberlin Science Center is completed. Dedication ceremonies are held October 4.

2002 The chemistry department acquires a 600-MHz NMR spectrometer, a first at a primarily undergraduate institution.

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