225th Birthday: Johan August Arfwedson

225th Birthday: Johan August Arfwedson

Author: ChemViews

Johan August Arfwedson was born in Skagersholm, Sweden, on January 12, 1792, to a wealthy merchant family. He was homeschooled as a child, and at the age of 14, he started to study law and mining sciences at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. In 1812, he joined the Royal College of Mines in Stockholm, Sweden.

In Stockholm, Arfwedson met Jöns Jacob Berzelius, who established the law of constant proportions and today is considered one of the founders of modern chemistry. Arfwedson joined his laboratory and started to work on the analysis of minerals. He investigated, e.g., the composition of manganese oxides.

In 1817, Arfwedson started his work on petalit, a mineral that had been found in an iron mine on the island Utö south of Stockholm. Petalit has the composition LiAlSi4O10. Arfwedson successfully determined the silica and alumina content, but together, these accounted for only 96 % of the mineral’s weight. After further experiments, Arfwedson and Berzelius concluded that the missing part must be a new alkali metal, which they termed “lithium” (stone metal).

Arfwedson prepared several lithium salts but was not able to isolate the element in its metallic form. The first isolation of lithium was achieved by Sir Humphrey Davy and William Thomas Brande in 1818, who performed an electrolysis of lithium oxide (Li2O) and obtained small amounts of the metal.

In 1819, Arfwedson set up his own laboratory. However, he owned several industrial plants and had little free time to pursue his research. Nevertheless, he published analyses of minerals such as cyanite, sodalite, and chrysoberyl, as well as of several uranium compounds. In 1823, the British scientist Henry James Brooke named a newly discovered mineral “arfvedsonite” to honor Arfwedson’s contributions to mineralogy. Johan August Arfwedson died on October 28, 1841, in Hedensö, Sweden,

Johan August Arfwedson is the answer to Guess the Chemist (61).


Selected Publications by Johan August Arfwedson

  • Undersökning af någre vid Utö Jernmalmsbrott förekammende Fossilier, och af ett feri funnet eget Eldfast Alkali (in Swedish),
    J. A. Arfwedson,
    Afh. i Fysik, Kemi, och Min. 1818, 6, 145–172.
  • Bidrag till en närmare kännedom om uranium (in Swedish),
    J. A. Arfwedson,
    Kongl. Vet. Acad. Handl. 1822, 404–426.
  • Om svafvelsyrade metallsalters sönderdelning med vätgas (in Swedish),
    J. A. Arfwedson,
    Kongl. Vet. Acad. Handl. 1822, 427–449.


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