Svante Arrhenius (19 Feb.
1859 – 2 Oct. 1927) was a
Swedish scientist that began his work as a physicist, but is often referred to
as a chemist.
from a very young age, Arrhenius showed himself to be an exceptionally gifted
individual—at the age of three years old, he taught himself to read without any
encouragement from his parents, and he became a child prodigy in the field of
mathematics by watching his father add numbers together in his accounting
began his formal education in the local cathedral school when he was eight
years old, but chose to start in fifth grade rather than first. But he was
undaunted in his position—he distinguished himself in physics and mathematics
and graduated at 17 years old as the youngest (and most able) student in his
the University of Uppsala (where his father had been a land surveyor for a
number of years), Arrhenius was unsatisfied with the chief physics instructor—a
man named Per Teodor Cleve (who was also the only member of the faculty who
could have supervised him in chemistry)—so he decided to leave and study at the
Physical Institute of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm (under the
physicist Erik Edlund) in 1881. In 1884, he submitted a 150-page dissertation
on electrolytic conductivity (which he had been working on and researching for
those three years) for his doctorate, but he was only granted a third-class degree
after all of his effort. However, it would be extensions of this very work that
would someday earn him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
primary idea behind Arrhenius’ dissertation was that, contrary to the beliefs
of Michael Faraday (who had coined the term “ion” many years before and
believed that ions were produced in the process of electrolysis), salts
dissociate into charged particles when forming a solution even without the
presence of an electric current. Thus, he proposed that all reactions in
solution were reactions between ions.
an extension to this theory, Arrhenius suggested definitions for acids and
bases (also in 1884). Acids, he proposed, are substances that produce hydrogen
(or hydronium) ions in solution, while bases are substances that produce
hydroxide ions in solution.
then received a travel grant from the Swedish Academy of Sciences and journeyed
over the country to study with famous scientists of his era such as Wilhelm
Ostwald, Friedrich Kohlrausch, Ludwig Boltzmann, and J.H. van t’ Hoff.
formulated the concept of activation energy in 1889, and became a lecturer at
the Stockholm University College in 1891 before being promoted to professor of
physics in 1895. He was married twice (the first time to a former student), had
four children, and was part of the Nobel Committee of Physics—and of
Chemistry—before becoming the first Swede to receive the Nobel Prize for
Chemistry. He was also the rector of the Nobel Institute for Physical Research
at Stockholm (founded in 1905) until his retirement in 1927.
In his later years, Arrhenius’ theories were more widely accepted, and so he moved on to other scientific topics—such as the theory of the Greenhouse Effect—and he wrote both textbooks and popular books, in which he emphasized the need for further works on the topics he himself had discussed. Arrhenius came down with an acute attack of intestinal catarrh in September of 1927 and died on October 2 of the same year. He was buried in Uppsala.