The present Institute was established in 1972 through the merger of the Institute of Physical Chemistry and the Institute of Polarography, both of them parts of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.
The Institute of Polarography was founded in 1950 under the directorship of Professor Jaroslav Heyrovský, and two years later became part of the newly constituted Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Research activities focused both on the theory of polarography and physico-chemical processes occurring at dropping and streaming mercury electrodes, and on the methodology, instrumentation and analytical applications of polarography.
The award of the 1959 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Professor Heyrovský for the invention and development of polarography >represented an important stimulus for the Institute and encouragement for the whole scientific community in the country.
The early sixties marked the start of a gradual extension of pursued research topics from polarography to other disciplines of general and applied electrochemistry, including different methods of electroanalysis, electrochemical power sources, and electrochemical processes at interfaces between immiscible electrolyte solutions with relevance to biological membranes.
When Professor Heyrovský retired, his former student Dr. Antonín A. Vlček who was engaged in electrochemical studies of inorganic coordination compounds, took over the position of director of the Institute in 1965.
The Institute of Physical Chemistry, with Professor Rudolf Brdička as director was established in 1955 by expanding the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry founded in 1953 within the framework of the forming Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. As most of the first members of the Laboratory and of the Institute were awarded their degrees for research work in polarography, polarographic topics took precedence for some time in their work. In particular were pursued exact solution of mass transport to the dropping mercury electrode combined with chemical volume reactions accompanying the electron transfer process. However, the research program of the Institute gradually shifted to other disciplines such as mass spectrometry, dynamics of elementary collisions of ions and excited atoms with molecules, theory of the chemical bond, quantum chemistry, adsorption and heterogeneous catalysis, polymer science and organometallic chemistry, aerosol science, thermodynamics and kinetics of chemical reactions, molecular spectroscopy, and electron spectroscopy.
A difficult situation occurred after the invasion of the country by Warsaw Pact armies in 1968, when many members of the Institute including several leading personalities emigrated to the West. After a transition period following the untimely death of Professor Brdička in 1970, the Institute was in 1972 amalgamated with the Institute of Polarography under the name J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry, with Professor A. Vlček as director.
In 1988 the Institute moved to a new building constructed on the Academy Campus in Prague 8. This event represented a radical improvement of working conditions and was crucial for the further development of the Institute.
The profound political changes in the country in the years 1989/1990 started a new era of the Academy. The Institute gained a large measure of autonomy and its structure and management were extensively reformed. In 1990 the Scientific Council of the Institute elected Dr. Rudolf Zahradník, a theoretical and quantum chemist, as director. In order to overcome the consequences of central planning in scientific work and to increase the efficiency of the Institute, its staff was reduced almost by half, and research in some fields was even terminated. Grant system of funding research projects was introduced. Abolition of restrictions imposed on contacts with the scientific community abroad opened the way to wide international cooperation and integration of the Institute into a number of research networks. Also a rapid and extensive modernization and improvement of the experimental equipment and computer facilities started.
Because of his election as President of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in 1993, Professor Zahradník resigned from the position of director of the Institute and Dr. Vladimír Mareček, an electrochemist specializing in processes at interfaces of immiscible solutions, was elected his successor for a 4-year term. The name of the Institute was shortened to J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry. In 1997, Dr. Mareček was re-elected director of the Institute for the next term. When he stepped down from this position effective December 31, 2000 due to personal reasons, Dr. Petr Čársky, a quantum and theoretical chemist, was elected to director for the next four years. In 2004 he was re-elected director for the period 2005-2008.
Since 2007 the status of the Institute was changed (according to Law No. 341/2005) to the "public research institution (v.v.i.)", and management and scientific bodies were changed accordingly. Prof. Zdeněk Samec, an electrochemist, was elected to director for the next five years.