by Piter Kehoma Boll
Today I am presenting a 18th century scientist who worked on several areas of the natural sciences.
Torbern Olaf Bergman was born on 20 March 1735 in Låstad parish, Sweden, the son of Barthold Bergman and Sara Hägg. His interest in botany was raised by his teacher Sven Hof at Katedralskolan in Skara.
At the age of 17, he enrolled at the University of Uppsala. He wanted to study mathematics and natural science, but his father wanted him to study law or divinity. Trying to please both his father and himself, he overworked himself and became ill, which forced him to stay some time away from study. During this period, he entertained himself with field botany and entomology.
Through his entomological collections, Bergman became acquainted with Linnaeus and sent him several insects of new species. In 1756, he succeeded in proving that, contrary to Linnaeus’ opinion, the species called Coccus aquaticus was simply the ovum of a leech, which Linnaeus recognized as correct. Due to this discovery, as well as because he developed a method to capture the wingless females of winter moths, Bergman was awarded a prize by the Swedish Academy of Sciences, being elected a member of the Academy in 1764. The next year he was ellected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
Bergman also defended a thesis in astronomy and founded the Cosmography Society in Uppsala, through which the published, in 1766, his work Physisk beskrifning öfver jordklotet (Physical description over the globe), which was one of the first books of modern geography. He then became an associate professor of physics and studied the electrical properties of tourmaline, as well as meteorological phenomena such as the northern lights, thunder and rainbow.
In 1767, the chemist Johan Gottschalk Wallerius resigned from his position as professor of chemistry and mineralogy at the University of Uppsala and Bergman was decided to be a candidate. However, he did not have previous experience in publishing works on chemistry and his competitors charged him with ignorance on the subject. To refute them, he isolated himself in a laboratory for some time and wrote a treatise on the manufacture of alum and it became a standard work. Nevertheless, he still faced strong opposition and only got the chair of chemistry through the influence of the prince Gustavus III, who was also chancellor of the university. He kept this position until his death.
Bergman married his wife, Margareta Catharina Trast, in 1771. In 1772, he was one of the first to receive the Royal Order of Vasa, which was awarded to Swedish citizens for their service to the state and society, especially in the fields of agriculture, mining and commerce.
In 1775, Bergman published his most important chemical paper, Essay on Elective Attractions, a study of chemical affinity. In March 1782, he was elected a foreign associate of the French Academy of Sciences.
He died prematurely on 8 July 1784, aged 49, in Medevi, Sweden, due to a stroke. The radiactive uranium mineral torbernite was named in his honor.
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Encyclopædia Brittanica (1991) Bergman, Torbern Olof. Available at < https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Bergman,_Torbern_Olof >. Acess on 20 March 2019.
Wikipedia. Torbern Bergman. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torbern_Bergman >. Access on 20 March 2019.
Wikipedia (in Swedish). Torbern Bergman. Available at < https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torbern_Bergman >. Access on 20 March 2019.