Svante Arrhenius: 1903 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

By Phineas Upham

If you’ve ever felt like you knew more than your professor, you can probably sympathize with Svante Arrhenius. Born in 1859, Arrhenius was a young prodigy who taught himself how to read without parental encouragement, and figured out numbers using his father’s scientific records.

As a young man, he studied at the University of Uppsala. There, it became increasingly apparent that there was only one faculty member on staff who could surpass his knowledge of chemistry. He also became deeply dissatisfied with his physics instructor, so he did what most young men would do in such a situation: he transferred. He moved to Stockholm to study at the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He soon published a 150-page dissertation regarding the conductive properties of electrolytes. In it, he made more than 56 theses that are still accepted to this day with minor or sometimes no edits. He discovered that crystalline salts disassociate into pairs of charged particles when they dissolve in water. That discovery basically showed that chemical reactions took place between ions, a step further than Michael Faraday’s thesis that ions required an electrical current and were produced during electrolysis.

Although that discovery secured the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903, it did little to impress the snubbed faculty of Uppsala. Still, Arrhenius circulated his paper to various scientists in Europe, which would have won him a tenured position in Germany or England had he not declined. Arrhenius’ father was quite sick, and he had no desire to leave the dying man.

About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.