The chemist’s working day

During the 18th century, chemists began to increasingly use the experimental methodology of physics. But the procedures and analytical methods were not particularly rigorous. The Swede Jacob Berzelius pioneered the development of modern chemistry – with improved methodology, new equipment, and experiments that were extremely precise for the time.

The National Board of Mines, a government agency that regulated the Swedish mining industry, established the first, small chemistry laboratories. Though a systematic way of working was adopted and chemistry was integrated with mineralogy and metallurgy, the procedures were not particularly developed.

The modern development of chemistry in Sweden began principally with Jacob Berzelius. At the beginning of the 19th century he introduced more rigorous and reliable analyses. With Berzelius’s new ways of working it became possible to produce samples that were free from impurities, and to quantify each component in a substance with great precision.

Earlier shortcomings revealed by balance scales

Research results now became more reliable, though the laboratories needed ever more specialised equipment. Balance scales proved to be an essential instrument for the 19th century chemists - with their help it was possible to reveal the shortcomings of many of the previous analyses.

Chemicals needed for the experiments were obtained through pharmacies or from itinerant German merchants. But a chemist also needed to be very inventive. Berzelius made many of his instruments and tools himself. He was, amongst other things, a lathe operator, glass blower and carpenter, producing whatever he needed: filter paper, test tube holders and funnels.

Improved balance scales

Johan Gottlieb Gahn of Falun studied at Uppsala alongside Torbern Bergman (the father of analytical chemistry) and Carl Wilhelm Scheele (one of the discoverers of oxygen), and was the mentor of Jacob Berzelius. Gahn made several improvements to the balance scales. Use of a rectilinear horizontal beam made it easier to make the arms exactly equal in length. Screws at the ends of the arms made the weighing process faster and more accurate. Movable weights on the arms also made it possible to use the apparatus as a set of sliding scales for quick, approximate weighing.