The Institute of Physical Chemistry of the PAS was founded on March 19, 1955 by the resolution of the Presidium of the Government of the People's Republic of Poland. The scientific goals of the Institute were described as follows: "The activity of the Institute of Physical Chemistry covers research on current issues in the field of physical chemistry which are important from the point of view of the development of chemical sciences and demands of the national economy".
The Institute of Physical Chemistry was the first research institute dedicated to chemical sciences in Poland. During the first period of the existence of the Institute the main task was to prepare scientific staff that would be able to undertake fundamental research in the field of physical chemistry and to provide them with the appropriate laboratories and equipment. The development of the scientific staff was possible due to the fact that the scientists in the research institute were free from teaching duties obligatory in universities and therefore were able to concentrate their activity solely on the development of science.
The first employees of the Institute included: members of the Polish Academy of Sciences: Professor W. Świętosławski, Professor St. Bretsznajder, Professor B. Kamie
ński, Professor M. Śmiałowski, Professor W. Trzebiatowski; professors: W. Kemula, St. Minc, K. Gumiński, J. Kamecki; four associate professors (J. Berak, Z. Szklarska-Śmiałowska, J. Wojciechowska, J. Minczewski) and auxiliary scientific workers including: 12 assistant professors, 24 assistants and 15 technicians.

Pursuant to the Statute of the Institute seven scientific departments were established:
I. Department of Structural Research (Head: Prof. Dr Włodzimierz Trzebiatowski) in Wrocław - investigation of structure of fire resistant materials, semiconductors, metal alloys and contact catalizers.
II. Department of Physicochemical Analytical Methods (Prof. Dr Wiktor Kemula) - elaboration of fast methods of control of raw materials and products by means of potentiometry, polarography, chromatography, spectrochemistry, etc.
III. Department of Physical Chemistry of Basic Organic Raw Materials (Prof. Dr. Wojciech Świętosławski) - elaboration of physicochemical characterization of organic raw materials and their products, and search for ways to separate multicomponent mixtures, like e.g. pitches, prapitches, rock-oil, etc.
IV. Department of Physical Chemistry of Surface Phenomena (Prof. Dr. Bogdan Kamieński) in Kraków, with a laboratory in Lublin (Prof. Dr. A. Waksmundzki) - elaboration of the theory of flotation for separation and enrichment of minerals and raw materials, elaboration of contact processes, research in the field of adsorption and ion exchange.
V. Department of Physical Chemistry of Electrode Processes (Prof. Dr. Michał Śmiałowski) - research on mechanism of cathode and anode processes as well as on catalysis and corrosion.
VI. Department of Electrochemistry (Prof. Dr. Stefan Minc) - elaboration of fundamentals of electrolysis in aqueous and non-aqueous solutions, and in molten salts, research on contact potentials and structure of electrolytes.
VII. Department of Physicochemical Fundamentals of Technology (Prof. Dr. Stanislaw Bretsznajder) with a laboratory in Wrocław (Prof. Dr. W. Bobrownicki) - elaboration of fundamental problems of engineering and construction of chemical apparatuses and unitary technological processes.
The first Director of the Institute and at the same time Chairman of its Scientific Council was Professor Wojciech Świętosławski, the vice-Director at that time was Professor Michał Śmiałowski. After retirement of Professor Świętosławski in 1960, the next Directors were: Professor Michał Śmiałowski (1960-1973), Professor Wojciech Zielenkiewicz (1973-1990), Professor Jan Popielawski (1990-1992), Professor Janusz Lipkowski (1992-2003), Professor Aleksander Jabłoński (2003-2011), Professor Robert Hołyst (2011-2015), Professor Marcin Opałło (since 2015).

Based on the text of Professor W. Zielenkiewicz written for the chronicle on the 50th anniversary of IPC PAS.