• Dear Children! The ultracentrifuge is now routinely used in laboratories across the globe in the fields of biochemistry, biomedical sciences, nanosciences, nanotechnology, colloids & interface sciences and the list goes on and on....But do you know the scientist who developed ultracentrifuge for the first time? Why was its development necessary? Who invented this?
  • The Swedish Colloid Chemist Theodor Svedberg (1884-1971) developed “Ultracentrifuge” for the first time.  Perhaps many of you have already heard about colloid substances.  The nice cup of tea we sip while reading newspaper in every morning and the milk we drink every day are perfect examples of colloidal substances. Colloids are mixtures in which tiny particles of one or more substances are suspended in a liquid solvent e.g. water. Colloids are usually too small to settle under the force of gravity.  To see and also to force such small colloidal particles out of solution, you need an ultramicroscope (e.g. an electron microscope).  Svedberg for the first time demonstrated that the small colloidal particles can be made to sink by spinning the liquid in very high speed in a much more powerful centrifuge than the then existing centrifuges which were already being used to separate milk from cream and blood corpuscles from blood plasma. In 1923 Theodor Svedberg developed such ultracentrifuge, a device that was capable of rotating fast enough to create a force hundreds of thousands of times that of gravity.
  • Svedberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1926 for his early pioneering work on the nature of colloidal dispersions (with the help of ultracentrifuge developed by him), and in particular, for providing first experimental evidence in favour of Einstein’s theory of Brownian motion.
  • Svedberg was the only child of Elias Svedberg and Augusta Alstermark. His father Elias Svedberg was a naturalist who enjoyed collecting minerals and plants and often took his son on botanical excursions. This awakened in little Theodor a long lasting interest for natural science. Theodor was an outstanding student by any means.  Most of Svedberg’s schooling was at Köping Elementary School and Carolina Grammar School in Örebro where he was very fortunate to have understanding & passionate teachers who allowed him to carry out his own experiments in the physics and chemistry laboratories. Svedberg matriculated and began his lifelong association with Uppsala University in Sweden in January 1904. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1905 within a record one and half year time, Master’s degree in 1907 and his PhD degree in 1908, all from Uppsala University. He was elected as Professor of Physical Chemistry at Uppsala University in 1912 and continued in the same position till his official retirement from Uppsala University in 1949. He then became an emeritus professor in 1949 and at the same time Director of the Gustaf Werner Institute for Nuclear Chemistry at Uppsala University, from which position he retired in 1967.
  • Although Svedberg’s major scientific contributions are in the field of colloid science and artificial rubber, he will always be remembered as a scientist who was willing to test his own theory rigorously and was ready to change his point of view when experimental findings indicated otherwise.  Svedberg showed only one type of molecule during ultracentrifuge separation and concluded that proteins are made up of a single large molecule. These ground breaking findings immensely contributed in the understanding of proteins and other large molecules.
  • Svedberg believed that pursuing basic research and organised, target-oriented applied are equally exciting & rewarding. He firmly believed that “The ability to see the unexpected is a rare gift.” Svedberg had many other interests beyond science. His love for botany, photography, literature, poetry, and painting were amazing. He has died on 25th February, 1971 in Kopparberg, Sweden.

Contributed by Dr Arabinda Chaudhuri, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad