It was established on 1st January 1968 initially as Research Laboratories of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry having the Scientific Council jointly with the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. From 1968 to 2002 it was directed by Professor Jerzy Haber. Since 28th November 1978, when the appropriate decree of the Council of Ministers of Poland was issued, it exists as an independent Institute with its own Scientific Council. Since 1990 the Institute has rights to grant PhD degree in Physical Chemistry and since 2000 it has habilitation (DSc) rights. The Institute is a member of Marian Smoluchowski Krakow Scientific Consortium 'Matter-Energy-Future', which since 2012 has a status of National Leading Scientific Center (KNOW).
From 1999 the International PhD Studies are carried out by ICSC together with Department of Technology and Chemical Engineering, Technical University in Cracow.
The employment in the Institute evolved from 28 persons when it was established in 1968 to 92 persons in 2001 including 42 research staff with 15 professors and associate professors (docent) specializing in various aspects of catalysis, surface chemistry and colloid science. Currently, the number of Institute's employees is above 100, of which 2/3 are research staff. Over 20 PhD and many undergraduate students are also involved in the research. There are 14 independent research groups and four laboratories that provide services for scientific community: Laboratory of Surfaces and Nanostructures, Joint Laboratory of Biotechnology and Enzyme Catalysis and National Research Center for Magnetic Nanostructures (SPINLAB).
The research activities of the Institute cover the interdisciplinary field of catalysis and the physical chemistry of phenomena occurring at solid/gas, liquid/gas and solid/liquid interfaces with an emphasis put on their significance and mechanism in catalysis, flotation, adsorption and detergency.
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The main topics of research
- theory of catalytic processes in heterogeneous, homogeneous and enzymatic systems: kinetics and mechanism of reactions,
- quantum chemical and molecular mechanics modelling of surface phenomena,
- mechanism of catalysis by oxides, zeolites and pillared clays,
- transport phenomena in colloid systems, electrokinetic phenomena,
- physical chemistry of soft matter , interactions in disperse systems and their stability,
- surfactant systems, adsorption, surface elasticity and foam formation and stability,
- catalytic processes for environmental protection,
- mechanism of the degradation of historical buildings and objects of art under the influence of air pollutants.
ICSC integrates fundamental theoretical and experimental studies, and combines them with applied research so that the results obtained can be used directly to improve technological processes.
The research activities of the Institute are very broad and versatile. The bulk of research encompasses design, synthesis, testing and practical verification of new, advanced materials and processes. In the area of heterogeneous catalysis, lots of effort is put into developing new, "intelligent" nanomaterials, with well-defined structure-property relations, tuneable to the requirements of a particular catalytic reaction. The materials under investigation include new types of oxidic structures, nanodispersed metal catalysts and novel micro- and mesoporous inorganic solids. The work is targeted at application in processing of hydrocarbons, end-of-pipe environmental catalysis, CO2 utilization, fuel cells and green chemistry reactions, and involves also the description of kinetic and mechanistic aspects of the studied processes. Research into homogeneous and enzymatic catalysis concentrates on bioactive and biomimicking systems. In the field of surface chemistry of dispersed systems, investigations are focused on adsorption phenomena, surfactants, mechanism of foam formation, nano- and colloidal particles interactions, thin polymer layers, encapsulation of active chemical compounds, nanostructured coatings in application for biocompatible materials such as stents or bone implants.
An important aspect of the research carried out at ICSC is to provide the theoretical background for experimental studies. The field of expertise ranges from elucidating catalytic reaction mechanisms and modelling the structures of transition metal oxides, composite nanomaterials and enzyme active centres, to describing surfactant adsorption at liquid/gas and liquid/liquid interfaces, and simulating polymer particle adsorption on solid homogenous surfaces.
One of the focal points in the research carried out at ICSC PAS is the preservation of the natural environment and cultural heritage. In the latter area our work concentrates on the structure and properties of historic materials, mechanisms of their deterioration, and measures to conserve and protect them. Special emphasis is laid on phenomena occurring at the surfaces, such as interaction with moisture contained in the air and the resulting structural response of historic materials. The research on the moisture-induced destruction of historic salt sculptures in Wieliczka Salt mine led to implementation of air conditioning system, which eliminated the existing risks. Examples of practical conservation work include an important archaeological site at Wiślica, featuring a magnificently decorated gypsum floor dating back to 12th century, made accessible to visitors again thank to the research and preservation programme coordinated by the Institute's experts, as well as the monumental facade of the former Trade Academy in Krakow, Kapucyńska 2-4, subjected to conservation with the use of decorative cement materials re-created as a result of the group activities.
The Institute has also notable achievements in developing technologies for protecting the environment. One of them - SWINGTHERM - is a novel catalytic, low-energy-consumption process based on the Regenerative Catalytic Oxidation, targeted at the purification of industrial waste gases, which found application in Poland, Europe, and overseas. In 1995, a spin-off company Katalizator Ltd. was created, in order to promote the industrial implementation of catalytic materials designed at ICSC. This company, in which ICSC holds a control share packet, produces and sells catalysts synthesized according to ICSC-patented procedures to industrial partners all over the world. In 2007 a Centre for Environmental Pollution Analyses has been established, offering services to the customers from the whole country.
Education and popularization
ICSC PAS is a parent institution for the International Postgraduate School, organised in cooperation with the Faculty of Engineering and Chemical Technology of the Krakow University of Technology, and the Faculty of Chemistry of the Rzeszów University of Technology. The School is attended by over 50 PhD students. In the framework of collaboration with the Jagiellonian University, ICSC offers the possibility of preparing the MSc and BSc theses in chemistry and environmental protection.
Moreover, each year ICSC PAS organizes Open Day which aims at popularization of the catalysis and the surface science among pupils from primary and secondary school.