Science, Technology and Discoveries

Berzelius, Jöns Jakob, Baron

Berzelius, Jöns Jakob, Baron (1779-1848), Swedish chemist, considered one of the founders of modern chemistry.

Berzelius was born near Linköping. While studying medicine at the University of Uppsala, he became interested in chemistry. After practicing medicine and lecturing, he became a professor of botany and pharmacy at Stockholm in 1807. From 1815 to 1832 he was professor of chemistry at the Caroline Medico-Chirurgical Institute in Stockholm. He became a member of the Stockholm Academy of Sciences in 1808 and in 1818 became its permanent secretary. For his contributions to science, Berzelius was made a baron in 1835 by Charles XIV John, king of Sweden and Norway.

Berzelius's research extended into every branch of chemistry and was extraordinary for its scope and accuracy. He discovered three chemical elements—cerium, selenium, and thorium—and was the first to isolate silicon, zirconium, and titanium. He introduced the term catalyst into chemistry and was the first to elaborate on the nature and importance of catalysis. He introduced the present system of chemical notation, in which each element is represented by one or two letters of the alphabet. In addition, Berzelius was primarily responsible for the theory of radicals, which states that a group of atoms, such as the sulfate group, can act as a single unit through a series of chemical reactions. He developed an elaborate electrochemical theory that correctly stated that chemical compounds are made up of negatively and positively charged components. All of his theoretical work was supported by elaborate experimental measurement. His greatest achievement was the measurement of atomic weights.