Johan Gadolin: 1760-1852, Chemist and discoverer of yttria

Johan Gadolin's family included scientists and clergymen; both his father and maternal grandfather were Professors of Physics at the Royal Academy of Turku. Finland belonged at that time to Sweden and thus it was natural for the young Gadolin to go to the University of Uppsala to continue his studies in chemistry under Professor T. Bergman. Gadolin's doctoral thesis on the analysis of iron was finished in 1781. During 1786-88 Gadolin made an extensive study tour in Europe visiting among others R. Kirwan in Ireland. He was appointed in 1797 to the chemistry professorship in Turku, a post he held until his retirement in 1822. Most of his publications dealt with inorganic and analytical chemistry but he also made significant contributions to thermochemistry.

Johan Gadolin's best known achievement was in 1794 the discovery of yttria which contained new earth elements (in oxide form), present in a black mineral found seven years earlier in Ytterby quarry near Stockholm. This mineral contained the first rare earth (lanthanide) element discovered; later the mineral was named in his honour, gadolinite, and element 64 gadolinium.

Gadolin wrote in 1798 "Inledning till Chemien" (Introduction to chemistry) which is considered to be the first antiphlogistic textbook in Swedish.

Born: Turku, Finland, on June 5 1760
Died: Mynämäki, Finland, on August 15 1852

Source: The Royal Society of Chemistry’s historical information service