Niels Ryberg Finsen

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Niels Ryberg Finsen
Niels ryberg.jpg
Born (1860-12-15)December 15, 1860
Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Died September 24, 1904(1904-09-24) (aged 43)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1903)

Niels Ryberg Finsen (December 15, 1860 – September 24, 1904) was a Faroese physician and scientist of Icelandic descent. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1903 "in recognition of his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation, whereby he has opened a new avenue for medical science."[1]

Biography[edit]

Niels Finsen was born in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, as the second-oldest of four children. His parents were Hannes Steingrim Finsen, who belonged to an Icelandic family with traditions reaching back to the 10th century, and Johanne Fröman, who was born and raised in Iceland.[2] The family moved to Tórshavn from Iceland in 1858 when his father was given the position of Landfoged (collector of the revenue for the whole country, treasurer or steward (Icelandic: landfageti; Danish: landfoged) who receives the taxes from the sysselmand and delivers the proceeds to the stiftamtmand) of the Faroe Islands. When Niels was four years old his mother died, and his father married his mother's cousin Birgitte Kirstine Formann, with whom he had six children. In 1871 his father was made Amtmann of the Faroe Islands.

Finsen got his early education in Tórshavn, but in 1874 was sent to the Danish boarding school Herlufsholm, where his older brother Olaf was also a student. Unlike Olaf, Niels had a difficult stay at Herlufsholm, culminating with a statement from the principal which claimed Niels was "a boy of good heart but low skills and energy".[citation needed] As a consequence of his low grades, he was enrolled in his father's old school, Lærði skólinn, in Reykjavík in 1876. While studying there, his grades improved greatly.

Studies in medicine[edit]

In 1882, Finsen moved to Copenhagen to study medicine at the University of Copenhagen, from which he graduated in 1890. Following graduation, he became a prosector of anatomy at the university. After three years, he quit the post to devote himself fully to his scientific studies. In 1898 Finsen was given a professorship and in 1899 he became a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog.

The Finsen Institute was founded in 1896, with Finsen serving as its first director. It was later merged into Copenhagen University Hospital and currently serves as a cancer research laboratory that specializes in proteolysis.

Finsen suffered from Niemann–Pick disease, which inspired him to sunbathe and investigate the effects of light on living things.[3] As a result, Finsen is best known for his theory of phototherapy, in which certain wavelengths of light can have beneficial medical effects. His most notable writings were Finsen Om Lysets Indvirkninger paa Huden ("On the effects of light on the skin"), published in 1893 and Om Anvendelse i Medicinen af koncentrerede kemiske Lysstraaler ("The use of concentrated chemical light rays in medicine"), published in 1896. The papers were rapidly translated and published in both German and French. In his late work he researched the effects of salt, observing the results of a low sodium diet, which he published in 1904 as En Ophobning af Salt i Organismen ("An accumulation of salt in the organism").[2]

Finsen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1903 for his work on phototherapy. He was the first Scandinavian to win the prize and is the only Faroese Nobel Laureate to date.

Personal life[edit]

Finsen married Ingeborg Balslev (1868–1963) on December 29, 1892.

Finsen's health began to fail in the mid-1880s. He had symptoms of heart trouble and suffered from ascites and general weakness. The sickness disabled his body but not his mind, and he continued to work from his wheelchair. He died in Copenhagen on September 24, 1904. Accounts of his funeral can be found at the National Library of Medicine.[4]

Memorials[edit]

The Finsen Laboratory at Copenhagen University Hospital is named in his honor, and in Tórshavn there is a memorial to Finsen, as well as one of the city's main streets, Niels Finsens gøta, bearing his name. A monument to Finsen designed by the sculptor Rudolph Tegner was installed in Copenhagen in 1909. It shows a standing naked man flanked by two kneeling naked women reaching up to the sky. The sculpture was entitled Mod lyset (Towards the Light), and symbolised Finsen's principal scientific theory that sunlight can have healing properties.[5]

References[edit]

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