Uppsala celebrates its 500th anniversary

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  • Education

    Uppsala celebrates its 500th anniversary Swedish university looks

    back on outstanding history

    of scientific achievements,

    stresses tradition of basic

    research as key element

    Dermot A. O'Sullivan C&EN, London

    Sweden's Uppsala University reached an important milestone in its history last week. Sept. 29 was the 500th anniversary of its founding. One of the events to mark the occasion was the conferring of hon-orary doctorate degrees on prominent scientists and scholars from around the world. Another was a major address by Nobelist Glenn T. Seaborg, one of those honored.

    The institution was founded at the time when the university concept was taking hold in earnest in principal cities throughout medieval Europe. Indeed, two other universities, those at Mainz and Tubingen in West Germany, reached the 500-year mark this year also. Of course, there are older institutions of higher learning, those at Bologna, Louvain, and Paris, for example. But Uppsala holds the special position of being the first of its kind in Scandinavia.

    Uppsala can look back on a proud his-tory of scientific discoveries and achievements over the centuries. And in science circles the school is still held in the highest regard. Its influence is widespread

    i

    Claesson: student decline not ominous

    and continues to grow. But as the uni-versity marks its half-millennium, its chemistry and other science faculties are facing a period of change and uncertainty. These shifts include the way the depart-ments are run, some changes in teaching emphasis, and growing outside pressure for more stress on applied research.

    The faculty of science at Uppsala is divided into divisions. These deal with all branches of chemistry, with biology and geology, and with mathematics including physics, astronomy, and meteorology. There also is a technology division re-sponsible for various branches of engi-neering. Within the division of chemistry are three institutes. One, the Institute of Chemistry, covers analytical, inorganic, and organic chemistry. The other two are the Institute of Biochemistry and the Institute of Physical Chemistry.

    The institutes of the science faculty, like those in other branches of the uni-versity, are run along democratic lines. Each has a committee, or board, com-prising some 10 people drawn from all levels of the institute's work force ranging from the professorial staff to graduate teaching assistants, workshop technicians, secretaries, and janitors. The committees have wide-ranging powers. For instance, they can select the institute head, have some control over budget spending, and even have a say in the type of research undertaken. One positive aspect of this arrangement is that people working in an institute have a direct function in running it and, consequently, have a personal in-terest in its affairs. But as one chemistry faculty member points out, the policy could present a danger if the committee members should become politically mo-tivated. They might also lower institute standards. "Moreover," he adds, "you can't run research satisfactorily by com-mittee."

    The number of students in the faculty of science at Uppsala is about 2000, down from a peak of some 3000 ten years ago. Dr. Stig Claesson, professor of physical chemistry, doesn't see anything ominous in the decline. Rather, he points out, the large number taking science during the mid-1960's was the outgrowth of a gov-ernment crash program to expand the number of high school science teachers throughout the country. Most of the posts now have been filled.

    During the past few years, the chemis-try division has been undergoing some-thing of a change of emphasis in the courses being offered. "The trend is to present courses to provide scientific lit-eracy for people who aren't necessarily in the chemical profession," Dr. Lars-Olaf

    Various events held during this year have marked 500th birthday of Uppsala

    Sundelof, dean of Uppsala's division of chemistry, observes. "The idea has been to broaden the presentation of chemistry to different groups of people such as en-gineers and the like. These take the form of continuation courses. Another change is to provide highly specialized courses of a few weeks' duration in particular topics like chromatography and nuclear mag-netic resonance. This isn't unique for Uppsala, however," he adds.

    Although the past strength of Uppsala University rests on a high level of funda-mental research, the Swedish govern-ment, as are governments in many other countries, currently is pressing for more emphasis on applied research. The trend is a cause of concern among Uppsala's administrators. Dr. Torgny Segerstedt, the university's rector, sees some danger arising from the recent reform in educa-tion in Sweden that gives government legislators greater influence in setting the direction of future patterns of university research. "If one is optimistic, this may mean that they have a better idea about the dependence of society on research," he remarks. "It is quite evident that applied research is increasing in importance in society. But it is critical that people gov-erning society understand that this can't go on if there isn't basic research as capital from which to draw. It's up to us to edu-cate members of government boards, and so on, to keep them aware of this fact. If we fail in doing that, I'm afraid that we

    Oct. 3, 1977 C&EN 25

  • Sundelof: provide specialized courses

    may have a very difficult situation," he points out."

    As a center of excellence, Uppsala University has attracted a number of science-oriented institutes and com-panies. At the Gustaf Werner Institute, set up in 1949 with Theodor Svedberg as its first director, fundamental work is carried out on high-energy physics using the institute's i87-MeV synchrocyclotron, and on various aspects of nuclear biology such as the use of radioisotopes of short half-life in medicine and cancer studies. Recently, a state institute of food chem-istry moved to Uppsala from Stockholm, and there soon will be a state geological institute established there.

    Uppsala also maintains close associa-tion with various branches of leading Swedish industries. Principal among these are the research establishments connected with the forest products in-dustries and the iron and steel indus-tries.

    In its long past, Uppsala has nurtured a number of important scientists. There was Olof Rudbeck, for instance, a physi-cian as well as a notable botanist, archi-tect, musician, and statesman, who was the first to describe the lymphatic system in 1653. His anatomy theater, with its domed cupola, is one of the few such structures still standing in Europe. In the 18th century, there were Carl Linnaeus, a botanist of considerable fame who col-lected plants from many parts of the world and did much to establish the sys-tematic classification of botanical species; Anders Celsius, an astronomer who, in 1742, proposed the temperature scale named after him; Samuel Klingenstierna, a mathematician and physicist who car-ried out early fundamental studies on electricity; and Torbern Bergman, a chemist who made notable advances in the then emerging fields of mineralogy and chemical analysis. A hundred years ago there were Frithiof Helmgren, Swe-den's first professor of physiology and a leading investigator of color blindness; Ivar Sandstrom, discoverer of the para-thyroid glands; Anders Angstrom, a physicist who pioneered the science of

    solar spectroscopy and established the unit of wave length that bears his name; and Svante Arrhenius who laid the foun-dations of the theory of electrolytic dis-sociation.

    Following this long line of tradition, a number of workers at Uppsala more re-cently have made their mark on the world of science. One of the most outstanding was Svedberg, who held the chair of physical chemistry at the university. He developed the ultracentrifuge technique for studying the physical characteristics of macromolecules. Another was Arne Tiselius, a biochemist who established electrophoresis as a method for separating proteins and who, like Svedberg, won a Nobel prize. Physicist Kai Siegbahn is a nuclear spectroscopist and inventor of the electron spectroscopic method of chemi-cal analysis (ESCA).

    At the university's anniversary cele-bration late last month, 11 chemists were honoredfive from the U.S. In addition to Seaborg, they are Dr. Donald J. Cram of the University of California, Los An-geles, Dr. Choh Hao Li, director of the hormone research laboratory at the Uni-versity of California, San Francisco, Dr. Kurt Mislow of Princeton University, and Dr. David H. Templeton, also of Berkeley. The others are Dr. Geoffrey C. Barker, a director at the U.K. Atomic Energy Re-search Establishment in Harwell, Dr. Erwin F. Bertaut, research director at the x-ray laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Grenoble, France, Sir Frederick Dainton, chairman of the U.K.'s University Grants Com-mittee, Dr. Nikolai M. Emanuel, chair-

    Segerstedt: basic research as capital

    man of the chemistry department at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, Dr. Yuri A. Ovchinnikov, head of the Shemuyakin Institute of Bio-Organic Chemistry in Moscow, and Dr. Ilya Pri-gogine, who holds professorships in chemistry at the Universite Libre in Brussels and at the University of Texas, Austin.

    Selection of individuals from the world community of chemists to be so honored was no easy task, admits Sundelof. "One criterion that we used, apart from obvious recognition of their being leaders in their particular fields, was that they had maintained ties with their counterparts at the chemistry department here at Uppsala over the years," he notes.

    Knowledge and survival

    The theme of Dr. Seaborg's address was that the extension and dissemina-tion of knowledge, perhaps now more than at any time in history, holds the key to human survival. Society is now at the stage, he explains, when there are new and pressing demands to expand knowledge and to use it to make wise changes that could affect the lives of generations to come.

    Seaborg rejects the pessimism of those who are suspicious of all growth. He goes on, "Others, myself included, see the possibility of controlling that growth through expanded knowledge, and, perhaps more important, of using new knowledge as the principal means of making what growth is necessary acceptable and advantageous to the number of people who will inevitably inhabit the earth over the next few dec-ades."

    However, he regrets that a great deal of knowledge-gathering and useusu-ally referred to as R&Dis wasted. He is thinking, in part, of the $30 billion spent annually around the world on mil-itary R&D. He explains that "while many view that as necessary for their national security, those resources and the human intellect and creativity they employ could

    have a major impact on world security on the fulfilment of human needsif released for the pursuit of peaceful progress."

    Whether a shift can be made in that direction, it is essential that knowledge be expanded to face up to three key needs. These are:

    The need to match global natural resourcesenergy, materials, food, and waterto the requirements of a grow-ing humanity.

    The need to understand more fully the environment and ecology of the planet and to conduct human activities both in harmony with them and in ways conducive to mankind's survival and satisfaction.

    The need to fulfill as well as pos-sible the human potentialthe desire of individuals to be useful and rewarded members of society.

    He explains that we cannot go back to the simpler life, the ways of our an-cestors. For all our difficulties, life today is far better for more people. And the possibilities for the future can be brighter than ever, if we develop not only new knowledge, but a greater faith and confidence in the human mind and spirit.

    26 C&ENOct. 3, 1977

    EducationUppsala celebrates its 500th anniversary