Jöns Jacob Berzelius – One of the Founders of Modern Chemistry (2023)

Jöns Jacob Berzelius – One of the Founders of Modern Chemistry (1)

Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779 – 1848)

(Video) What is Jöns Jacob Berzelius?, Explain Jöns Jacob Berzelius, Define Jöns Jacob Berzelius

On August 20, 1779, Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius was born. Berzelius is considered, along with Robert Boyle, John Dalton, and Antoine Lavoisier, to be one of the founders of modern chemistry. In Sweden, Berzelius Day is celebrated on20 August in honor of him.

“Every chemical combination is wholly and solely dependent on two opposing forces, positive and negative electricity, and every chemical compound must be composed of two parts combined by the agency of their electrochemical reaction, since there is no third force. Hence it follows that every compound body, whatever the number of its constituents, can be divided into two parts, one of which is positively and the other negatively electrical.”
– Jöns Jacob BerzeliusEssai sur la théorie des proportions chemiques(1819)

Jöns Jacob Berzelius – Background

Jöns Jacob Berzelius was born in 1779the son of Samuel Berzelius, a priest and teacher, who died of tuberculosis when Jöns was only four years old. In 1785 his mother Anna Christina married the priest Anders Ekmarck from Norrköping, to whom Berzelius attested in his autobiography an exemplary character and who awakened in him the love for nature (botany). Jöns Jakob Berzelius was first educated by tutors. From 1793 he attended grammar school in Linköping. As he was also exposed to the rough treatment of his cousins here, he took a job as a tutor at Norrköping for one year (1794/95), where he deepened his enthusiasm for nature studies with the help of his old tutor.

(Video) Jöns Jacob Berzelius 1

His medical studies started in 1796 in Uppsala because this field of study was quite close to natural sciences and most likely provided a decent income. He studied under Anders Gustav Ekeberg, the chemist who discovered tantalum.Berzelius received his candidate and licentiate degree in 1801. His dissertation, entitled Effects of Galvanic Electricity on Patients, which he had already submitted in 1801, appeared in 1802.He did not earn his doctorate in medicine until 1804. After Berzelius left the university, his uncle organized him a job as a pharmacist. While in medical school at the University of Uppsala,Berzeliuswas fascinated aboutAlessandro Volta’s “electric pile” [4] and while working at the Medevi mineral springs, a spa and health resort, Berzelius constructed one for himself from 60 zinc plates and 60 copper plates. His thesis for his medical degree was on the effect ofelectric shock on patients with various diseases, for instance paralysis. Even though he reported no improvement in his patients, his interest in electrochemical topics continued.

The Birth of Modern Chemistry

In 1802, Berzelius became an unpaid assistant at the Surgical Institute in Stockholm (Karolinska Institute since 1810). Since he had hardly any income at the beginning, he lived with the mineral water entrepreneur Lars Gabriel Werner, for whom he carried out studies as compensation for food and lodging. Berzelius had no laboratory at the Surgical Institute. However, the mine owner Wilhelm Hisinger, who also experimented himself, provided him with laboratories in which he could carry out the first internationally renowned experiments. In 1805 he became an unrelated assessor because his application to succeed Anders Sparrman was unsuccessful. At the same time he became a poor doctor in the eastern part of Stockholm, which he remained until 1810. In 1806, due to the sudden death of Sparrman’s successor, he was appointed paid editor of chemistry.

Berzeliusassumed that atom groups would behave like small magnets. A particle could react electropositively, electronegatively or unipolarly in a volt pocket column. Berzelius assumed that all salts – inorganic and organic – would consist of a positive and a negative pole and were small molecular magnets. In an electropositive molecule magnet, the positive charge outweighs the negative charge in an electronegative particle. According to his theory, potassium sulfate consisted of the electropositively charged particles KO and the electronegatively charged SO3, Berzelius’ publication on electrochemistry also influenced Humphry Davy[5], who successfully conducted electrochemical experiments in 1806, which, to Berzelius’s disappointment, earned him much higher recognition.

(Video) 21. Berzelius to Liebig and Wöhler (1805-1832)

Oxygen was the most negative element for Berzelius; all elements connected to the oxygen had to have an electropositive charge. Some elements such as sulphur could sometimes be electropositive as well as electronegative (in sulphur dioxide the sulphur is electropositive, as metal sulphide electronegative). He sorted the elements into a voltage series. For Berzelius, electronegative oxygen was the linchpin of his further experiments. The most important position of oxygen was its ability to produce easily determinable compounds with metals and, moreover, all acids and bases known at that time contained oxygen. Davy was the first acid without oxygen, hydrochloric acid. Berzelius arbitrarily gave the oxygen the atomic mass 100 and related all other atomic masses to the oxygen. Later he also chose hydrogen as his reference point.

Organic Chemistry

Berzelius was the first person to make the distinction between organic compounds (those containing carbon), and inorganic compounds. In particular, he advised Gerardus Johannes Mulder in his elemental analyses of organic compounds such as coffee, tea, and various proteins. The term protein itself was coined by Berzelius, after Mulder observed that all proteins seemed to have the same empirical formula and came to the erroneous conclusion that they might be composed of a single type of very large molecule. The term is derived from the Greek, meaning “of the first rank”, and Berzelius proposed the name because proteins were so fundamental to living organisms. In 1808, Berzelius discovered that lactic acid occurs in muscle tissue, not just in milk. He also determined that lactic acid occurs in two different optical isomers

Academic Career

In 1807 he was made a professor at the Medical College in Stockholm, which soon after became the Karolinsska Institute. A year later he began his long association with theRoyal Swedish Academy of Sciences [1,3].In 1812 he was able to undertake his first study trip to England. In 1817 Berzelius was appointed to the University of Berlin as successor to Martin Heinrich Klaproth, which he rejected. 1818-1819 Berzelius spent one year in Paris, where he met numerous important chemists. He was also raised to the nobility in 1818. In 1822 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1832 he resigned as professor.

(Video) Jöns Jacob Berzelius

Berzelius intended to create a textbook for his medical students and performed a series of experiments which made him most famous. With these experiments, he managed to establish that the elements in inorganic substances are bound together in definite proportions by weight. His increasing interest in all kinds of compounds led to his discovery of numerous elements, such as cerium, selenium, and thorium. Selenium was named after the moon goddess selene by Berzelius [3]. Also, several students worked together with the scientist and discovered several elements as well, including lithium and vanadium. Berzelius was then able to determine the atomic weight of almost all elements and he was motivated to create a logical system of symbols (H, Cl, Ca …) [1,2].

Jöns Jacob Berzelius received 12 royal orders and was member of almost 100 academies and scientific societies around the globe. He was elevated to the nobility in 1818 and awarded the baronetcy in 1835. The scientist, who is on this day considered as one of the founders of modern chemistrysuffered a seizure that paralyzed his legs in 1847. Jöns Jacob Berzelius died in Stockholm on 7 August 1848 and was buried in Solna.[3].

J. Michael McBride,21. Berzelius to Liebig and Wöhler (1805-1832), [7]

(Video) J. J. Berzelius- the great chemistry scientist

References and Further Reading:


What is Jacob Berzelius contribution to chemistry? ›

Berzelius is credited with discovering the elements cerium, selenium, silicon, zirconium, titanium, and thorium. He introduced rubber tubing into the laboratory as well as filter paper for analytical chemistry.

What did Jöns Jacob Berzelius discover? ›

Jöns Jacob Berzelius

What did Berzelius pioneer in the science of chemistry? ›

An avid and methodical experimenter, Jöns Jakob Berzelius (1779–1848) conducted pioneering experiments in electrochemistry and established the law of constant proportions, which states that the elements in inorganic substances are bound together in definite proportions by weight.

How did Berzelius defined organic chemistry? ›

Berzelius argued that, despite differences between organic and inorganic matter, organic compounds could be assigned a dualistic composition and therefore could be specified in the same manner as inorganic ones.

What is the Berzelius hypothesis? ›

Berzelius a Swedish chemist, gave a hypothesis called Berzelius hypothesis which states that : Equal volume of all gases under similar conditions of temperature and pressure contain equal number of atoms.

What did Swedish chemist J Berzelius determine? ›

Berzelius' laboratory skill and imagination were legendary: In 1818, he determined precise atomic weights for 45 of the known 49 elements, and by the end of his career he had characterized several new chemical elements, including thorium, silicon, cerium and zirconium.

Who was known as the one of the founders of modern chemistry? ›

Robert Boyle: The Founder of Modern Chemistry.

Who invented the first chemistry lab? ›

As a professor of chemistry, Berzelius was able to build a well-equipped laboratory. With specially developed equipment, he created a vast body of work with measurements and chemical analysis to discover the weights of atoms.

When did Berzelius give vital force theory? ›

Berzelius was a Swedish scientist who in 1815 proposed that organic compounds could only be produced by some special force which must be existing in a living organism and could not be prepared in a laboratory. This force was called vital force and this theory came to be known as vital force theory.

Who is known as the Father of Modern Chemistry and why is he known? ›

Antoine Lavoisier: the Father of Modern Chemistry | Nature.

How did Berzelius name the elements? ›

His system abbreviated the Latin names of the elements with one or two letters and applied superscripts to designate the number of atoms of each element present in both the acidic and basic ingredients.

What element was named by Berzelius? ›

It was Berzelius who discovered selenium in 1817, as an impurity in sulphuric acid. Tellurium had already been discovered, and named after the Greek word for earth, so he named selenium using the Greek word for moon, selene. It occurs in various minerals, together with sulphur as you would expect.

How did Berzelius assign symbol to the elements What is a chemical symbol of chlorine? ›

Berzelius opted to use the first letter of the Latin name of the chemical compound instead of drawing circles or arrows. He thus symbolized Carbon as C and Oxygen as O . If two letters had the same first letter then the first two letters were to be used as the symbols.

Why do you think Berzelius put forth the vital force theory? ›

He wanted to prove that organic compounds cannot be synthesised in the lab.

What is the difference between Berzelius hypothesis and Avogadro hypothesis? ›

According to Berzelius Hypothesis- "Equal volumes of all gases under similar conditions of temperature and pressure contain an equal number of atoms”. But Avogadro made a hypothesis that clearly distinguished between the two ultimate particles of matter, i.e., atoms and molecules.

How did Berzelius discover thorium? ›

Thorium was discovered by Jöns Jacob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist, in 1828. He discovered it in a sample of a mineral that was given to him by the Reverend Has Morten Thrane Esmark, who suspected that it contained an substance. Esmark's mineral is now known as thorite (ThSiO4).

Who are the one to prove the existence of chemistry? ›

Jöns Jacob Berzelius

Along with Lavoisier, Boyle, and Dalton, Berzelius is known as the father of modern chemistry.

Who was the first American chemist? ›

Theodore William Richards (January 31, 1868 – April 2, 1928) was the first American scientist to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, earning the award "in recognition of his exact determinations of the atomic weights of a large number of the chemical elements."
Theodore William Richards
InstitutionsHarvard University
12 more rows

Who is the Swedish chemist that proposed the first definition of acid and base? ›

The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius developed the first chemical definitions of acids and bases in the late 1800s. Arrhenius defined an acid as a compound that increases the concentration of hydrogen ion (H+) in aqueous solution.

Who were the two founders of modern chemistry? ›

Father of modern chemistry- John Dalton and Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle and John Dalton are known as fathers of modern chemistry. Robert Boyle was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor.

Who is known as the father of modern chemistry quizlet? ›

Lavoisier was the first to use systematic names for chemical elements. He is often called the "father of modern chemistry," and his book is usually regarded as the first chemistry textbook.

What is the origin of modern chemistry? ›

Around 300 BC ancient Greek philosophers came up with a concept how to physically manipulate the properties of different substances. From that time period all the way up until the late 18th century, this practice was known as Alchemy, which is considered the building block to what we now consider as Modern Chemistry.

Who named chemistry? ›

The word chemistry is said to have roots in either ancient Egypt or Greece. Science historian Howard Markel discusses the word's origin, and the modern naming of the field of chemistry by British natural philosopher and alchemist Robert Boyle in his 1661 treatise, The Skeptical Chymist.

Who is the father of chemistry now? ›

Antoine Lavoisier determined that oxygen was a key substance in combustion, and he gave the element its name. He developed the modern system of naming chemical substances and has been called the “father of modern chemistry” for his emphasis on careful experimentation.

What is the main concept of the theory of life force in chemistry? ›

In the early 19th century, Jöns Jacob Berzelius developed a theory called the vital force theory. The vital force theory stated that organic compounds could not be made in a lab, but needed a mysterious, God-given power that was found only in living organisms.

What did Jon Jacob Berzelius believe in in 1800? ›

Atomic Theory

He explained his belief that matter exists as atoms, stating that atoms of different elements have different masses. Berzelius was doubtful about Dalton's theory, but recognized how fundamentally important to chemistry it would be if it were true.

Who disproved the life force theory and how? ›

The theory was disproved by Friedrich Wohler, who showed that heating silver cyanate (an inorganic compound) with ammonium chloride (another inorganic compound) produced urea, without the aid of a living organism or part of a living organism.

What is the contribution of Father of chemistry? ›

Antoine Lavoisier determined that oxygen was a key substance in combustion, and he gave the element its name. He developed the modern system of naming chemical substances and has been called the “father of modern chemistry” for his emphasis on careful experimentation.

Who is the greatest contribution in chemistry? ›

Top ten greatest chemists
  • Alfred Nobel (1833–1896) ...
  • Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907) ...
  • Marie Curie (1867–1934) ...
  • Alice Ball (1892–1916) ...
  • Dorothy Hodgkin (1910–1994) ...
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) ...
  • Marie Maynard Daly (1921–2003) ...
  • Mario Molina (1943–2020)

What is the contribution of chemistry? ›

Chemistry is essential for meeting our basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health, energy, and clean air, water, and soil. Chemical technologies enrich our quality of life in numerous ways by providing new solutions to problems in health, materials, and energy usage.

How did Jacob Berzelius discover selenium? ›

Selenium was discovered by Jöns Jacob Berzelius at Stockholm in 1817. He had shares in a sulfuric acid works and he was intrigued by a red-brown sediment which collected at the bottom of the chambers in which the acid was made.

Who is known as the father of modern chemistry and why is he known? ›

Antoine Lavoisier: the Father of Modern Chemistry | Nature.

Who is known as the father of modern chemistry and why is he called? ›

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier is the father of chemistry​: Lavoisier made numerous significant discoveries to the area of chemistry, including establishing water as a hydrogen-oxygen combination. He discovered sulphur is an element, and diamond is a type of carbon.

Who is called father of modern chemistry? ›

Antoine Lavoisier, the French Chemist known as “The Father of Modern Chemistry”.

Who is first person of chemistry? ›

Lavoisier has been considered by many scholars to be the "father of chemistry". Chemists continued to discover new compounds in the 1800s. The science also began to develop a more theoretical foundation.

How chemistry has changed the world? ›

The industrial applications of chemistry directly affect our daily lives—what we eat, what we wear, our transport, the technology we use, how we treat illnesses and how we get electricity—to name just a few. Research is constantly deepening our understanding of chemistry, and leading to new discoveries.

What are 3 great chemistry discoveries? ›

Here's my top five chemistry inventions that make the world you live in.
  • Penicillin. Not a cowshed, but a wartime penicillin production plant. ...
  • The Haber-Bosch process. Ammonia revolutionised agriculture. ...
  • Polythene – the accidental invention. ...
  • The Pill and the Mexican yam. ...
  • The screen you are reading on.
Jun 1, 2015

What is chemistry in your own words? ›

Chemistry is the study of matter, analysing its structure, properties and behaviour to see what happens when they change in chemical reactions. As such, it can be considered a branch of physical science, alongside astronomy, physics and earth sciences including geology.

What is the role of chemistry in daily life? ›

Chemistry is used in daily life for numerous tasks, including eating safe foods, boiling water to kill bacteria, using antibacterial soap, and more. As you can see, there are many applications of chemistry in daily life; you likely just don't recognize them.

How did Jacob Berzelius discover silicon? ›

Silicon was discovered by Jöns Jacob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist, in 1824 by heating chips of potassium in a silica container and then carefully washing away the residual by-products. Silicon is the seventh most abundant element in the universe and the second most abundant element in the earth's crust.

Who first discovered the element selenium? ›



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