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History of the Department


Abbreviated and freely rewritten from the book ČESKÉ PIVO (Bohemian Beer), by authors Prof. Ing. G. Basařová DrSc and Ing. I. Hlaváček CSc, issued by the publishing house of NUGA, Pacov, Czech Republic, 2nd edition, 1999.

Today's University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, and its Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering can trace their origins to the oldest engineering school in Prague, established in 1907 by military expert Ch. J. Willenberk. This technical school taught not only how to construct fortifications, bridges, and roads, but also agriculture within the framework of lectures on reclamation of  landscapes decimated by war. In 1803, the school was renamed to the Royal Bohemian School of Estates, and its educational programmes included chemistry, chemical technology, and the chemistry of natural substances for the first time.

In 1816, the brewmasters and deputy brewmasters of Bohemia sent a request to the Land Committee asking for a school for "pupils of the brewing industry" to be established at the Polytechnic School. K. A. Neumann, the first professor of chemistry, lectured only about chemical synthesis and analysis. Lectures on biological disciplines were introduced by his successor, Prof. J. Steimann (1779-1833), who included studies about the chemical principles of brewing, wine, and the production of vinegar in his lectures as well.

After Prof. J. Steimann's death, Karel Napoleon Balling (1805-1868), a personality of world importance, took over the teaching of chemistry at Prague Polytechnic. Prof. Balling was also the second Chancellor of the Utraquist (bilingual) Polytechnic Department, a member of the Royal Society of Sciences in Prague, and a corresponding member of the Caesar Academy of Sciences in Vienna. He published over 30 large volumes and many papers. His research was outstanding, namely in synthesis and fermentation technologies. The so-called Balling sugar meter, Balling scale, and degree Balling (°Bg) are still widely known. Balling also derived the so-called attenuation theory of fermentation and a formula, later called Balling formula, in which the concentration of the original wort can be calculated from the concentrations of alcohol and real extract in beer. His contributions from the 19th century are still used today. Additionally, Balling worked on brewing issues, such as the preparation of hop extracts, which were used in practice as late as the 1950s.

In 1869, Prague Polytechnic was split into two separate Polytechnic Institutes of the Kingdom of Bohemia, a German school and a Czech one. Beer brewing education took place primarily at the Czech Polytechnic,  nationalised in 1875 and given the name Bohemian Polytechnic Institute in Prague. In 1868, Antonín Bělohoubek (1845-1910) was named Associate Professor of Brewing at the Department of Prof. F. Štolba, successor to Prof. Balling. Antonín Bělohoubek produced a proposal to the Polytechnic Institute management to establish a separate field of fermentation chemistry. And thus, today's Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering was founded as the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Mycology. Starting in 1873, Prof. Bělohoubek lectured on fermentation disciplines, agrochemistry, technical microscopy, and commodity expertise, in addition to beer brewing.

In 1899, Prof. Karel Kruis (1851-1917) became the Head of the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Mycology. This pedagogue and scientist enriched instruction about fermentation technologies with enzymology and other modern biochemical and microbial aspects. He also deserves great credit for the construction of the experimental brewery and distillery at the Czech University of Technology in Prague, then located in Trojanova Street.

In 1920, the Czech University of Technology in Prague was renamed the Czech Technical University in Prague, and the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Mycology was then included into the more broadly developing branch of Chemistry. At that time, the Department Head was Prof. Jan Šatava, who later became the Director of the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting in Prague. He contributed to the erection of a Technology Hall in the building of the current UCT Prague in Prague 6, at Technická Street 5, which was completed in 1937. An experimental brewery and a distillery were installed in this hall again. Prof. Šatava died in 1938, when the grim period of the destruction of the Czech university education commenced and the tragic years of WWII were on the horizon.

After WWII, the department underwent numerous reforms, yet theoretical approaches were preferred in studies; the technical and engineering principles of fermentation production were neglected. This led to the closure of the experimental brewery. However, in 1952, the Faculty of Food Technology was integrated with the Department as the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Conservation Technology and later renamed the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Technology. Prof. J. Dyr (1904-1980) became its head and renewed the pre-war trend of incorporating modern technology principles from the fermentation industry into coursework instruction and made the studies of malting and brewing more comprehensive. At that time, studies of biochemistry were expanded, and molecular genetics was introduced.

In 1970, Prof. V. Grégr (1914-1991), expert on distilleries and microbial biomass production, took over leadership of the department. During his time in office, the department was renamed the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering. Once he retired, Prof. G. Basařová led the department from 1981 to 1997. He brought innovations to education programmes, namely in malting and brewing, by deepening the theoretical knowledge about biology and engineering and expanding the possibilities for applying such knowledge to respective processes of fermentation production. After the Velvet Revolution, the education system in the Czech Republic underwent a number of changes, including more opportunities for international cooperation and exchange of students. Assoc. Prof. J. Čepička took over the department's leadership following Prof. Basařová and managed it until 2002. At that time, Prof. K. Melzoch was nominated Department Head, a position which he held until being appointed UCT Prague's Rector. At that time, Prof. J. Masák became Department Head.

Research activities of the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering are the result of long-term traditions established in the commercial sector focused on traditional and modern biochemical technologies employing the activities of single-cell organisms and their impacts on the quality of products for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Since its establishment, the department has contributed to the development of new technologies leading to the creation of high quality foodstuffs for the beverage industry (brewing, distilleries, vinegar making); production of organic acids (vinegar, lactic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, etc.); yeast, microbial biomass, organic solvents; and a number of active biological substances (antibiotics, amino acids, enzymes, and others).

The Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering was renamed the Department of Biotechnology on April 1, 2012.

Updated: 10.11.2015 16:57, Author: Stephanie Krueger

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