Arrhenius, Svante, August

Swedish chemist

Born: Wijk (near Uppsala), February 19, 1859

Died: Stockholm, October 2, 1927

Lecoq De Boisbaudran

Arrhenius was a child prodigy who taught himself to read at the age of three, and a brilliant student, graduating from the University of Uppsala at the top of his class.

He experimented with passing electricity through solutions, distinguishing between substances that conducted electricity when dissolved in water e.g. salt, and others that did not e.g. sugar. These he called electrolytes and non-electrolytes. From this he developed the theory of ionisation, concerning positively and negatively charged particles called ions which transmit electricity.

Most scientists would not accept this strange ionisation theory and even former teachers of Arrhenius dismissed the idea. Arrhenius prepared the ionic disassociation theory as part of his Ph.D. dissertation, and was awarded the lowest possible passing grade by his disbelieving examiners.

In 1889 Arrhenius studied how the rates of reaction of chemicals responded to changes in temperature, thus establishing both kinetic and catalytic theory.

In the early 1890s, however, other discoveries began to emerge, and Arrhenius was vindicated. The discovery of the electron by Thomson and the subsequent discovery of radioactivity by Becquerel fully supported the ionisation theory of Arrhenius and he was appointed, in 1895 to a professorship at the University of Stockholm.

In 1903, for the same thesis that had barely earned him a passing grade at university, he was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry.

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