Jöns Jakob Berzelius

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Berzelius, Jöns Jakob


Born Aug. 20, 1779, in Väversunda; died Aug. 7, 1848, in Stockholm. Swedish chemist and mineralogist.

In 1802, Berzelius received the degree of doctor of medicine at the University of Uppsala. He became professor at the University of Stockholm in 1807 and from 1810 to 1832 was professor at the Medico-Chirurgical Institution there. He became a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm in 1808. (In 1810 he became president and in 1818 permanent secretary.) In 1820 he became an honorary foreign member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

Berzelius is credited with the experimental substantiation of atomic theory and its development and introduction in chemistry. During the years 1810–1816, Berzelius used materials from analyses of oxides and provided new evidence for the law of multiple proportions. In 1814 he drew up, based on his own data, a table of the atomic weights of 41 elements and proposed that the atoms of elements be designated by the initial letters from their Greek and Latin names. In 1818 he published a table of the atomic weights of 46 elements and the percentage composition of about 2,000 compounds, which he personally had analyzed.

The foundation of Berzelius’ theoretical views was the idea of the electrical nature of chemical affinity. In 1807, Berzelius and W. Hisinger came to the conclusion that all salts consist of acids and bases and that, like salts, all chemical compounds have a dual composition. Subsequently (1812–19), Berzelius stated his electrochemical theory, which was in effect a progressive phenomenon in the history of chemistry.

Following A. Lavoisier, Berzelius assigned to oxygen the exclusive capability of forming acids; Berzelius called acids anhydrides of acids and for a long time denied the existence of acids without oxygen (HC1 and others). Berzelius arranged all chemical compounds in a general series with acids occupying its negative electrical end and bases at the positive end; salts were placed in the middle of the series. While investigating various minerals and ores, Berzelius and Hisinger discovered cerium (1803), selenium (1817), and thorium (1828); in 1824–25 he was the first to obtain silicon, titanium, tantalum, and zirconium in a free state.

In 1811, Berzelius began systematic analyses of the elementary composition of organic compounds; by 1814 he had succeeded in showing that their composition is subject to the law of multiple proportions. In 1815 he determined the first formulas for certain organic acids. When organic compounds were discovered that had the same composition but different properties, Berzelius in 1830 called this phenomenon isomerism.

Berzelius tirelessly defended the atomic theory in chemistry and recognized the reality of atoms and the possibility of knowing the constitution of chemical compounds. In this he demonstrated his materialistic views, which promoted the development of science. Berzelius’ work promoted the development of chemistry in the first half of the 19th century; this was recognized by his contemporaries, who called him the founder of chemistry.


Afhandliger i fysik, kemi och mineralogi, vols. 1–6. Stockholm, 1806.
Lehrbuch der Chemie, 5th ed., vols. 1–5. Leipzig, 1847–56.


Solov’ev, Iu. I., and V. I. Kurinnoi. Iakob Bertselius. Moscow, 1961.
Söderbaum, H. G. Jacob Berzelius, vols. 1–3. Uppsala, 1923–39.
Holmberg, A. Bibliographi över J. J. Berzelius, parts 1–2. Stockholm, 1933–36. Supplements 1–2. Stockholm, 1936–53.