Svante Arrhenius was born on this day (19 February) in 1859. He’s famous for his eponymous equation and for suggesting in 1896 that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere might affect the Earth’s climate. He also clarified our understanding of solution chemistry and acids and bases.
Arrhenius won the Nobel Prize in 1903 for explaining how electric current is conducted in solutions of ionic compounds. As a member of the Nobel committee, he was the key figure in denying Dmitri Mendeleev a Nobel Prize for his work on the periodic table. Long story short is that Mendeleev criticised Arrhenius’s Nobel-winning work, so the story goes that Arrhenius subsequently held a bit of a grudge.
While Arrhenius is celebrated for his achievements in chemistry, he was also a board member of the Swedish Society of Racial Hygiene, an organisation established in 1909 which pursued the study and promotion of eugenics. Twelve years after this Society was established, the Swedish government set up the State Institute for Racial Biology. From 1934 until 1976 a state-approved racial purity program led to the forced sterilisation of approximately 63,000 people, mostly women.