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About Us | History

In 1934, the Daniel Sieff Research Institute (1) was inaugurated in the small village, Rehovoth, in the middle of sand dunes and citrus groves. It was a walking distance from the place where Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organization and a famous chemist, built his home.

The Institute was built by a contribution from the Sieff family in memory of their son, Daniel, who died at an early age.

Sieff institute

Weizmann home

The Institute also housed the Haber Library -- a unique collection on the history and philosophy of science.


Haber's Library Photo: Shlomo Ben-Zvi, courtesy of the Weizmann Institute of Science Archives

At that time the Daniel Sieff Research Institute had two main branches of science: organic chemistry and biochemistry. The staff included 15 scientists that dealt mainly with problems connected to the country's economy: citrus, dairy, silk and tobacco, as well as the synthesis of chemical products of medical value.


In 1939, World War II broke out and it was both natural and inevitable that the scientific staff of the Sieff Institute would become deeply involved in the war effort, especially in the production of pharmaceuticals -- such as the anti-malarial drug Atabrine and the painkiller Evipan (hexobarbital) -- and other chemicals that were essential for the war effort and for the local population.

An article named “The Daniel Sieff Research Institute and its contribution to the National Home” was published by Dr. Benjamin M. Bloch, the Managing Director of the Institute, is shown in reference (1).

The scientific staff of the Sieff Institute in the first years included:

  • Chaim Weizmann, Honorary Director of Research
  • Ernst David Bergmann, Scientific Director of Research
  • Felix Bergmann, Organic Chemistry
  • Benjamin Bloch, Managing Governor
  • Benjamin Dishon (Deutsch), Inorganic chemistry
  • Frieda Goldschmidt, Spectroscopy
  • Leon Haskelberg, Organic Chemistry
  • Esther Hellinger, Microbiology
  • Yehuda Hirshberg, Physical Chemistry
  • Bruno Rosenfeld, Biochemistry
  • David Shapiro, Organic Chemistry
  • Ernst Simon, Biochemistry
  • David Shapiro, Organic Chemistry
  • Ludwig Taub, Pharmacology
  • William Taub, Organic chemistry
  • Benjamin Volcani, Biochemistry
  • Anna Weizmann, Organic Chemistry

In 1944, Dr. Weizmann celebrated his 70th birthday and his close associates, motivated by Meyer Weisgal, decided to expand the Sieff Institute into a multidisciplinary complex to be called the Weizmann Institute of Science. The cornerstone was laid in 1946.

The war of Independence started in 1947 and much effort was directed into supplying the military needs of the Israeli Army. The scientific branch of the army, Hemed, used the facilities of Institute buildings and many of the members of the unit continued as scientists in the Institute. The WIS was inaugurated on November 2, 1949.

The inauguration ceremony with Weizmann and Ben-Gurion Photo: Shlomo Ben-Zvi, courtesy of the Weizmann Institute of Science Archives

In the following years, a number of academic units were created.
The departments were:

  • Organic Chemistry, headed by Ernst David Bergmann, who was also the Institute's first Scientific Director.
  • Applied Mathematics, headed by Chaim Leib Pekeris
  • Biophysics, headed by Ephraim Katchalski (Katzir)
  • Experimental Biology, headed by Isaac Berenblum
  • Isotope Research, headed by Israel Dostrovsky
  • Polymer Research, headed by Aharon Katchalsky (Katzir)

And the scientific sections were:

  • Photochemistry , led by Yehuda Hirshberg
  • X-ray crystallography, founded and led by Gerhard M. J. Schmidt. 

The founding of the Biochemistry Department occurred comparatively late.
David Rittenberg was appointed at its head in 1956.
The Chemical Physics department was founded in 1962, with Shneior Lifson as the first head. He also served as Scientific Director of the Institute, 1962-1966.

In 1952, Ernst Bergmann left for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and in the same year he founded the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

After a brief transitional period, Franz Sondheimer was appointed head of the Organic Chemistry Department in 1955 and held this position until 1963. Ernest Wenkert briefly was acting head in 1964, succeeded in 1965 by David Lavie. In 1967 Organic Chemistry was merged with the X-ray crystallography and Photochemistry units, and renamed the Department of Chemistry. Gerhard M. J. Schmidt became its first chairman. He also briefly served as Scientific Director of the Institute in 1969.

The Daniel Sieff Institute educated graduate students basically since its inception. Usually, they were registered at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and obtained their degrees there. In December 1957, the decision was made to open a Graduate School at the Institute, which opened its doors in 1958 as the Feinberg Graduate School. The first official Weizmann Institute Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1964. In January 1967 the Feinberg Graduate School was chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York.

In 1970 the position of Scientific Director was absorbed into the Presidency of the Institute, with the proviso that the President had to be a scientist henceforth. Albert Sabin, the first President under the new rules, decided to reorganize the Institute into five scientific Faculties:

Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biophysics-Biochemistry, and Biology
Gerhard M. J. Schmidt became the first Dean of the Chemistry Faculty which at first consisted of four Departments:
Chemical Physics, Headed by Shneior Lifson             
Chemistry, Headed by Gerhard M. J. Schmidt
Isotope Research, Headed by Fritz S. Klein.
Plastics Research, Headed by David Vofsi
After the death of Gerhard Schmidt in 1971, David Samuel took over as the Dean.

It was then decided to split the Chemistry Department into two separate departments: Organic Chemistry and Structural Chemistry. The Faculty of Chemistry included the following departments since 1972:

Chemical Physics, headed by Shneior Lifson,             
Organic Chemistry, headed by Avraham Patchornik            
Structural Chemistry, headed by Mendel D. Cohen
Isotope Research, headed by Fritz S. Klein          
Plastics Research, headed by David Vofsi

The next reorganization took place in 1990-1991, during the Presidency of Haim Harari. Scientists from a number of departments were combined in more homogenous groups with more closely related areas of interest.

Itamar Procaccia became the first Dean of the reorganized Faculty.

The five new departments were:

  • Chemical Physics, headed by Yehiam Prior             
  • Environmental Sciences and Energy Research,
  • headed by Mordechai Magaritz              
  • Materials and Interfaces, headed by Meir Lahav
  • Organic Chemistry, headed by Yigal Burstein
  • Structural Biology, headed by Steve Weiner 

Benjamin M. Bloch, Managing Governor of the Daniel Sieff Institute.
Bulletin of the Israel Chemical Society commemorative volume on the occasion of Chaim Weizmann’s 70th birthday, (1944).


Written by Moshe Levy.