Jöns Jacob Berzelius, father of current chemical notation


Jöns Jacob BerzeliusAugust 20, 1779 in Östergötland (Sweden) – August 17, 1848 in Stockholm (Sweden)

He was a Swedish doctor, chemist and pharmacist who devised the current system of chemical notation, discovered chemical elements and coined new terms that have led him to be considered one of the fathers of modern chemistry.

He lost his parents at a young age and was left in the care of relatives. Between 1796 and 1801 he trained as a physician and acquired his interest in chemistry by working as an apprentice to Anders Gustaf Ekeberg, the discoverer of tantalum. His professional career includes being an apprentice in a pharmacy and working as a doctor at the Medevi spa. He graduated as a physician in 1802 and practiced near Stockholm until a mine owner, Wilhelm Hisinger, discovered his analytical abilities and endowed him with a laboratory.

In 1807 Berzelius was appointed professor of chemistry and pharmacy at the Karolinska Institute and in 1808 he was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. From 1818 to 1848 he held the position of secretary in the same and he is credited with revitalizing the Academy that experienced a second golden age.

In 1835, at the age of 56, he married Elisabeth Poppius, 24, the daughter of a Swedish government minister, and in the same year was elevated to freiherr (a title of the German and Austro-Hungarian nobility, equivalent to the baronial title).

In 1837, he was also elected to the Swedish Academy with chair number 5.

Throughout history there have been multiple recognitions to this great scientist and contributor to science and as curious as:
Sello conmemorativo de Berzelius

  • In 1818 Berzelius was ennobled by King Charles XIV John of Sweden.
  • A school is named after him in his hometown, Berzeliusskolan.
  • Both a crater on the moon and an asteroid are named after him.
  • In 1939, his portrait appeared on a series of postage stamps commemorating the bicentenary of the founding of the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Among his numerous scientific contributions, it is worth highlighting:

Law of definite proportions

Shortly after arriving in Stockholm, he wrote a chemistry textbook for his medical students that was the starting point of his long and fruitful career. Tratado de Química de Berzelius

While conducting experiments to document the textbook, he used the law of constant proportions, formulated by Joseph Louis Proust, and showed that inorganic substances are composed of different elements in constant proportions by weight.

Based on this fact, in 1828, he compiled a table of relative atomic weights, where the atomic weight of oxygen was set at 100. This work provided evidence in favor of Dalton's atomic theory: that inorganic chemical compounds are composed of atoms combined in whole amounts.

By discovering that atomic weights are not integer multiples of the weight of hydrogen (example: the weight of chlorine is 35.5 times the atomic weight of hydrogen), Berzelius also refuted Proust's hypothesis that elements are built from atoms. of hydrogen.

Chemical nomenclature

In order to systematize his experiments, he developed a system of chemical notation in which elements were denoted by simple symbols. It consisted of assigning the first letter of its name in Latin to the element, adding a second letter when there was a need to differentiate between two elements whose name began with the same initial. For example, C = carbon, Ca = calcium. In addition, the proportions were indicated by numbers.
Nomenclatura de los elementos de Berzelius

This is basically the same system used today in the molecular formula, with the only difference being that instead of the subscripts used today (for example, H2O), Berzelius used superscripts (H2O). Despite the great advance that he supposed against the previous systems, his proposal encountered resistance, and it took years to be universally accepted.

Discovery of new chemical elements

He is considered the first analyst of the 19th century because, in addition to carrying out a large number of analyzes with the greatest precision, he must be credited with the discovery of thorium, cerium and selenium, he was the first to isolate silicon (1823) , zirconium (1824), and titanium (1828). Furthermore, the students who worked with him in the laboratory also discovered lithium in 1817 and rediscovered vanadium in 1830. Berzelius was the one who proposed those names, as well as sodium.

He studied the combinations of sulfur with phosphorus, fluorine and fluorides, determined a large number of chemical equivalents.

Coined new chemical terms

Berzelius is also credited with new terms used in chemistry such as catalysis, polymers, isomer, isomerism, halogen, organic radical, and allotrope, although his original definitions differ drastically from their modern usage.

Great contribution to biology
Publicación de Berzelius

He was the first to make the distinction between organic compounds (those containing carbon) and inorganic compounds.

The term "protein" was proposed by Berzelius because these molecules seemed to be the primitive substance of animal feed that plants prepare for herbivores.

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