Berzelius, Jöns Jackob (1779–1848)
Berzelius was essentially an experimental chemist whose careful observations and measurements helped revolutionize and modernize his science. His accurate analyses established the laws of combination on an incontrovertible basis; and to him we owe the system of chemical symbols. He prepared the first table of relative atomic masses and contributed to the founding of the theory of atomic radicals. He discovered the elements cerium (1803), selenium (1818), and thorium (1829), and first showed calcium, barium, strontium, tantalum, silicon, and zirconium in the metallic (or, in the case of silicon, amorphous) form. He introduced the terms "protein," "isomerism," and "catalysis," and devised the modern method of writing emprical formulae (1813). Of his numerous writings, the most important was a text-book of chemistry (3 vols. 1808–18), which was translated into every European language.
Berzelius analyzed samples from various meteorites, including, in 1834, the Alais meteorite. In the latter, he confirmed the finding of chemists Thenard and Vauquelin, that carbon compounds were present. He then speculated about the origin of these substances and, in particular, whether they offered proof of life on other worlds (see panspermia). Perhaps influenced by his belief that most meteorites came from volcanic eruptions on the Moon, he was skeptical: "The carbonized substance that this earth [i.e. the meteoritic rock] contains ... would not authorize the conclusion that in its original habitat, this earthy substance was of organic nature."
Related category CHEMISTS
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