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Kemicum - From the discovery of oxygen to the atom knife

Kvarteret munken (the monks quarter), nestled alongside the Fyris River and the “Islandsfallet” waterfall, has witnessed the evolution of various academic disciplines from the 18th to the 20th century. Most recently, it was home to the fields of psychology and law. However, its origins are steeped in scientific exploration, housing Anatomicum, Patologen, Histologen, and the Chemist’s Laboratory, known as ”Laboratorium Chemicum.”

In 1738, the Chancellor of the University of Uppsala approved the establishment of a chemical laboratory in the quarter. By 1752, the land was acquired, and it was here that the chemist and pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele and the chemistry professor Torbern Bergman conducted their groundbreaking research. It was within the walls of Chemicum that Scheele proved the existence of oxygen, although he did not publish his observations before competitors beat him to it.

The Department of Chemistry relocated to new facilities in Kemicum near the Engelska Parken (English Park Campus) in 1859. Architect Ture Stenberg’s initial project in Uppsala was to design these modern chemistry facilities. Kemicum provided the university with much-needed state-of-the-art facilities, including lecture halls, laboratories, workspaces, and workshops, all behind impressive and aesthetically pleasing facades set within beautiful park surroundings.

Even though the chemistry department has since moved to new premises, busts of the eminent Swedish chemists and researchers Torbern Bergman, Jöns Jacob Berzelius, and Carl Wilhelm Scheele still grace the entrance, as does The Svedberg Laboratory.

As the 20th century dawned, modern science embarked on a journey into the world of atoms and molecules—the building blocks of life.

Theodor (The) Svedberg, a charismatic and exceptionally gifted scientist, became a professor of physical chemistry at a very young age. His studies primarily focused on colloids – microscopic particles in water solutions. During his work, he invented the ultracentrifuge, allowing him to separate and study purified proteins. For this groundbreaking work, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1926, laying the foundation for molecular biology. He is also the progenitor of the unit known as the ”svedberg,” a measure of sedimentation velocity.

Svedberg’s successes made the laboratory in Kemicum internationally renowned, attracting numerous guest researchers.
With the advent of the atomic bomb, research into the atomic world accelerated, and Svedberg quickly recognized its immense potential. A new facility was constructed in Uppsala to study atoms through nuclear chemistry. This facility was built around an electromagnet, from which a particle beam could be directed, including for medical applications with the so-called ”atom knife.” A 60-year-old woman with uterine cancer became the world’s first patient to be treated with this groundbreaking technology.

Today, chemical research and education can be found at various locations across the city, including the Biomedical Center (BMC), constructed in the 1960s, which became the new home for much of the department’s activities previously housed in Engelska Park. Additionally, the Ångström Laboratory hosts inorganic chemistry and materials science research. Recently, it was expanded with the addition of the New Ångström Laboratory, marking the largest investment in the university’s history.

Björn Arvidsson
Managing Director
+46 (0)70-994 36 06