Open main menu

Nils Johan Berlin (Nils Johannes Berlin) (18 February 1812 – 27 December 1891) was a Swedish chemist and physician, who held various professorships at the University of Lund from 1843 to 1864. Berlin was the first chemist who took the initiative to write a textbook for elementary science. He also studied the newly-discovered rare earths, separating yttrium and erbium.

Nils Johan Berlin
Berlin, Nils Johan ur jubileumscollage 1868.jpg
Born(1812-02-18)February 18, 1812
DiedDecember 27, 1891(1891-12-27) (aged 79)
Stockholm, Sweden
Alma materUniversity of Uppsala
Scientific career
Fieldschemistry medicine
InstitutionsUniversity of Lund
Doctoral advisorJöns Jacob Berzelius

Berlin was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences from 1844 onwards.[1] The mineral Berlinite (AlPO4) is named after him.[2][3]


A student of Jöns Jacob Berzelius, he graduated from the University of Uppsala with a doctor of philosophy in 1833, and a doctor of medicine in 1837.[4]:159


He became a professor of pharmacology at the University of Lund in 1843; a professor of chemistry and mineralogy in 1847;[5] Rector of the university, 1854-1855;[4]:51 and professor of medical and physiological chemistry in 1862. He served as the Director of the National Board of Hygiene (Sundhetskollegiet) beginning in 1864.[5][1]

Elementary textbooksEdit

Berlin was the first chemist who took the initiative to write a textbook for elementary science.[1] Berlin published two popular textbooks, which emphasized description and practical skills over theory (of which there was relatively little at the time). Vext-chemien i sammandrag was published in 1835, and Elementar-lärobok i oorganisk kemi first appeared in 1857. It went through 15 editions, selling more than 450,000 copies.[5][1] His textbooks helped to catalyze the teaching of science in elementary schools. They received praise and an award from Parliament, and were translated into German and Finnish.[1] Christian Wilhelm Blomstrand published a heavily revised edition of Berlin's textbook in 1870, in which Blomstrand attempted to systematize the elements.[6]

Berlin's father was a vicar. Berlin himself stated in his will that "Science and the thorough testing of its problems and results has never given me reason to doubt the truths of religion". As a scientist, and as a popularizer of science, Berlin situated scientific knowledge securely on a religious basis. This may have been an advantage when selling elementary textbooks, since pastors often led the local school boards that chose the textbooks for their schools.[1]

Rare earthsEdit

In 1787 Carl Axel Arrhenius found a dark mineral in a feldspar mine in the village of Ytterby, Sweden. He called it ytterbite and sent a sample to Johan Gadolin for further analysis. A number of researchers tried to identify elements composing the ore, which were particularly hard to separate of their similar chemical properties.[7] As a group, they were given the misnomer rare-earth elements. (In fact, they are not rare, just difficult to extract.)[8] Individually, they were discovered and named by various scientists, often using variants based on "Ytterby".[7]

The first two ores to be derived were called ceria and yttria. In the 1830s and 40s, Carl Gustav Mosander derived several substances from these known ores. In 1843 Mosander was able to extract three metal oxides from ytteria, a whitish "earth" which he called pure ytteria, a pink or rose-colored oxide which he called terbia, and a yellowish peroxide which he called erbia. Mosander was rightfully uncertain of their purity; they did however contain the elements yttrium, erbium, and terbium.[9][7]:5-7[10]

Nils Johan Berlin also tried to separate ytteria ore into constituents. In 1860, Berlin successfully reported the identification of two substances, yttrium, and a pink salt which Berlin named erbium. Subsequent chemists followed Berlin's designation rather than Mosander's.[10] The naming of ytteria's components became further complicated in 1862, when Marc Delafontaine reported its separation into yttrium and a yellow peroxide, which he first called mosandrum (after Mosander) and later terbium. In this way, the names originally given to erbium and terbium became switched.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hultén, Magnus (24 July 2015). "Scientists, teachers and the 'scientific' textbook: interprofessional relations and the modernisation of elementary science textbooks in nineteenth-century Sweden". History of Education. 45 (2): 143–168. doi:10.1080/0046760X.2015.1060542.
  2. ^ Senning, Alexander (2007). Elsevier's dictionary of chemoetymology : the whies and whences of chemical nomenclature and terminology (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. p. 45. ISBN 978-0080488813. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  3. ^ "Berlinite" (PDF). 2001-2005 Mineral Data Publishing. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b Weibull, Martin (1868). Lunds universitets historia: 1668-1868. 1. Lund: Gleerup. pp. 51, 159–160, 417–318. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Lundgren, Anders; Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette (2000). Communicating chemistry : textbooks and their audiences, 1789-1939. Canton, MA: Science History Publications. p. 97. ISBN 9780881352740. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  6. ^ Kaji, Masanori; Kragh, Helge; Palló, Gábor (2015). Early responses to the periodic system. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 156. ISBN 9780190200077. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Gschneidner, Karl A.; Bunzli, Jean-Claude; Pecharsky, Vitalij (October 27, 2010). Handbook on the Physics and Chemistry of Rare Earths. 41. Elsevier. pp. 4–10. ISBN 9780444535917. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  8. ^ Klinger, Julie Michelle (2017). "From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes". Rare earth frontiers : from terrestrial subsoils to lunar landscapes. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1501714603. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt1w0dd6d.
  9. ^ Cobb, Cathy; Goldwhite, Harold (1995). Creations of Fire: Chemistry's Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age. New York: Plenum. p. 261. ISBN 9781489927705. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  10. ^ a b c Holden, Norman E. (2001-06-29). "History of the Origin of the Chemical Elements and Their Discoverers". Upton, New York: Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

External linksEdit