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Cleve, Per Teodor

Cleve, Per Teodor

(b. Stockholm, Sweden, 10 February 1840; d. Uppsala, Sweden, 18 June 1905),

mineralogy, chemistry, oceanography.

Cleve began his studies of chemistry and botany in 1858 in Uppsala, having learned the basic principles of mineralogy in Stockholm from Mosander, the discoverer of lanthanum, didymium, erbium, and terbium. In his dissertation Cleve discussed mineral analysis; he was awarded the Ph.D in 1863. Through his works in widely separated areas of natural science, Cleve assumed a leading role in Swedish research in the natural sciences during the last decades of the nineteenth century and surrounded himself with an ever increasing number of disciples.

After only five years of research Cleve was appointed assistant professor in chemistry at Uppsala University. He also taught chemistry at the Technological Institute in Stockholm until 1874, when he became professor in general and agricultural chemistry in Uppsala. He was the president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science’s Nobel Prize committeefor chemistry from 1900 to 1905 and was a member of several foreign learned societies.

His first work, “Några ammoniakaliska chromföreningar” (“Some Compounds,” 1861), was soon followed by four other papers on complex metal compounds, and in still others, he described syntheses of a multiple of new complex compounds, until in 1872 he ended this series of analyses with a detailed epitome in English, “On Ammoniacal Platinum Bases.”

Cleve then began a series of analyses of the rare earth metals, in particular ytterbium, erbium, lanthanum, and didymium. He prepared numerous new compounds of these metals and could, as a consequence, confirm Mendeleev’s prediction that they would prove to be trivalent. He also expressed the suspicion that didymium was not an element, which was confirmed eleven years later, in 1885, when Welsbach divided it into neodymium and praseodymium. Of the new element scandium, which Nilsson had discovered in 1879, Cleve isolated, in the same year, a quantity big enough to determine reliably its atomic weight; this made it possible for him to identify the element with Mendeleev’s ekabor, the existence of which had been predicted eighteen years earlier. Cleve’s exhaustive researches on the chemistry of the rare earth metals was crowned in 1879 with his discovery of two more new elements, holmium and thulium, and with the publication of a monograph on samarium, discovered by Boisbaudran in the same year.

Cleve was active in organic chemistry as well, and several of his papers testify to his interest in the chemistry of naphthalene, which he enriched with, among other things, his discoveries of six of the ten possible dichlorine naphthalenes. He also discovered those aminosulfon acids that were known for some time as “Cleve’s acids.”

Cleve devoted the last fifteen years of his life almost exclusively to completing the biological works that he had started in his youth. His earliest studies were of the Swedish freshwater algae, to which he had devoted two monographs. Little by little he began to specialize in the plankton that create diatoms; his intensive researches soon brought him to the position of being the greatest authority of his time in this area. His method of determining the age and order of deposits in late glacial and postglacial stratifications, based on the diatomaceous flora in mud, proved to be scientifically useful. His idea that diatoms make good index fossils was further stated in the hypothesis that the streams in the oceans could be characterized by the plankton they transport and, conversely, that through the existence of one type of plankton one can determine the origin of the stream. His main work on this subject, The Seasonal Distribution of Atlantic Plankton Organisms, is a basic text of oceanography.


Cleve’s works include “Mineral-analytiska under-sökningar” (Ph.D. diss., Uppsala, 1862); “Bidrag till kännedomen om Sveriges sötvattensalger af familjen Desmidieae,” in Öfversigt af Kongliga vetenskapsakademiens förhandlingar, 20 (1863), 481–497; “Förelöpande under-rätterelser om några brom-och jodhaltiga ammoniakaliska platinaföreninagar,” ibid., 22 (1865), 487–500; “Svenska och norska diatomacéer,” ibid., 25 (1868), 213–239; “Om några isomera platinabaser. Med anmärkningar av C. W. Blomstrand,” ibid27 (1870), 777–796; “On Ammoniacal Platinum Bases,” in Kunggliva vetenskapskamines handligar, 10 no. 9 (1872); “Bidrag till jordmetallernas kemi” (diss. for professorship, Uppsala, (1874); “Om tvänne nya modifikationer af diklornaftalin,” in Öfversigt af Kongliga vetenskapsakademiens förhandlingar, 32 (1875), 35–37; “Om några lantan-och didymföreningar,” idid no 5 (1878), 9–25; “Cerium, Lanthan, Didym, Yttrium, Erbium, Beryllium,” in Gmelin-Kraut’s Handbuch der Chemie, vol. II, pt. 1 (Heidelberg, 1878) written with K. Kraut; “Om skandium,” in Öfversigh af Kongliga vetenskapsakademiens fördhandlingar36 no. 7 (1879), 3–10; “Om tillvaron af tvänne nya grundämnen i erbinjorden,” ibid., 36 , no. 7 (1879), 11–14; “Om samariums föreningar,” ibid., 42 no. 1 (1885), 15–20; “Nya undersökningar öfver didyms föreningar,” ibid pp. 21–27; “Karaktäristik af Atlantiska oceanens vatten å grund af dess mikrooganismer,” ibid., 54 (1897), 95–102; and The Seasonal Distribution of Atlantic Plankton Organisms (Göteberog, 1900).

Uno Boklund

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Cleve, Per Theodor

Cleve, Per Theodor


Per Theodor Cleve was a nineteenth-century expert in agricultural chemistry, inorganic and organic chemistries, geology, mineralogy, and oceanography.

Cleve's early schooling was in Stockholm, and after passing final examinations he went to Uppsala, Sweden, to study mineralogy and other sciences. Cleve earned a master's degree (M.Sc.) at the age of twenty-two years and completed his doctorate (Ph.D.) just one year later. During these years he received several travel grants that enabled him to visit laboratories in France, England, Italy, and Switzerland.

Some milestones of Cleve's teaching career at Uppsala University are: In 1860 the twenty-year-old student was appointed assistant professor in mineralogy; in 1863, at the age of twenty-three, he was named assistant professor in organic chemistry; and a year later he became professor of general chemistry and agricultural chemistry.

In Paris Cleve visited the research laboratory of chemist Charles Adolphe Wurtz (18171884). The laboratory was unique in Europe in its attraction of young chemists, and here Cleve made many friends. Wurtz drew Cleve's attention to complex metal compounds. At age twenty-one Cleve published his first research paper on a complex chromium compound he had prepared and analyzed. In this paper he demonstrated that the compound was chromium trichloride-ammonia-water (in a 1:4:1 ratio). He later turned to the study of complex platinum compounds, of which he prepared hundreds. In 1872 Cleve, now thirty-two years old, published the results of this study in the Transactions of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Cleve studied the group of elements known as the lanthanide elements. In 1879 he discovered two new lanthanide elements: holmium and thulium. The following year he undertook a thorough investigation of the newly discovered element scandium and proved that it had the properties predicted by Dimitri Mendeleev years earlier with his discovery of the periodic law and his publication of The Periodic Table.

Cleve's most celebrated work in organic chemistry was the preparation and characterization of the isomeric aminonaphthalenesulfonic acids, today called Cleve's acids.

In 1894 Cleve was awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society in London.

see also Holmium; Lanthanides; Mendeleev, Dimitri; Scandium; Thulium.

Ole Bostrup


Brock, William (1993). The Norton History of Chemistry. New York: Wiley.

Greenberg, Arthur (2000). A Chemical History Tour. New York: Wiley.

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