Peter Waage

Peter Waage (29 June 1833 – 13 January 1900), the son of a ship’s captain, was a significant Norwegian Chemist and professor at the Royal Frederick University. Along with his brother-in-law Cato Maximilian Guldberg, he co-discovered and developed the Law of Mass Action between 1864 and 1879.

Law of Mass Action states that “Under similar condition of pressure and temperature the rate at which the substances react is directly proportional to the active mass of the reactants and the rate of reaction is directly proportional to the product of the active masses of the reactant with each concentration term  raised to power equals to the Stoichiometric coefficient which appears during a balanced chemical equation.”

He grew up in Hidra. He was raised on this island, where his forefathers had lived as seamen for centuries. Because his father was usually at sea, Waage grew up mostly under the care of his mother, who was his first teacher. He was able to read by the age of about four. When Waage’s precocity became known, it was decided that he should receive further education rather than follow the traditional family occupation of seafaring. As a youth , he had a large collection of minerals, plants, and insects, and some of his first publications dealt with mineralogy and crystallography.Waage’s first regular schooling began at Flekkefjord when he was 11. The school principal persuaded him to prepare to attend the University of Christiania by entering the fourth year of the Bergen Grammar School in 1849. He passed his matriculation examination cum laudabilis for the University of Christiania in 1854, the same year as Cato Maximilian Guldberg, with whom he began a lifetime friendship. Together with several other students, they established a small, informal club whose members met on Saturday afternoons to discuss physical and chemical problems. Waage studied medicine during his first three years at the university but switched to mineralogy and chemistry in 1857. He was awarded the Crown Prince’s Gold Medal for his paper, “Development of the Theory of the Oxygen-Containing Acid Radicals,” which appeared in 1859, the same year as his book, Outline of Crystallography, coauthored with H. Mohn.
After graduating in 1859, Waage was awarded a scholarship in chemistry, enabling him to make a year’s study tour of France and Germany (where most of his time was spent with Robert Wilhelm Bunsen at Heidelberg) the following spring. He was appointed Lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Christiania in 1861, and in 1866 he was promoted to Professor of the only chair of chemistry at the university.Waage’s name is intimately linked with that of his friend Guldberg primarily for their joint discovery of the law of mass action. This fundamental law of chemistry, which today is known to every beginning chemistry student, had several forerunners, but the combined efforts of the empiricist Waage and the theorist Guldberg were needed to produce the first general, exact, mathematical formulation of the role of the amounts of reactants in chemical equilibrium systems.

 Waage and Guldberg were also related through two marriages; Guldberg married his cousin Bodil Mathea Riddervold, daughter of cabinet minister Hans Riddervold, and the couple had three daughters. Waage married Bodil’s sister, Johanne Christiane Tandberg Riddervold by whom he had five children, and after her death in 1869, he became Guldberg’s brother-in-law a second time, in 1870, by marrying one of Guldberg’s sisters, Mathilde Sofie Guldberg, by whom he had six children.Guldberg and Waage’s collaboration on the studies of chemical affinity that led to the law of mass action began immediately after Guldberg’s return from abroad in 1862. Waage presented their first report to the Division of Science of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters on March 14, 1864, where it elicited little response. Even after its publication the following year in Norwegian, a language not read by many chemists, in the academy’s journal, which was not accessible to many scientists, it failed to attract attention. Moreover, their work remained almost completely unknown to scientists as did the more detailed description of their theory published in 1867 in French. The theory did not become generally known until 1877 when German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald published an article that adopted the law of mass action and proved its validity by experiments of his own. The following year, Dutch chemist Jacobus Henricus van’t Hoff derived the law from reaction kinetics, apparently without any awareness of Guldberg and Waage’s previous work. Because their work had still not become universally known and van’t Hoff had not recognized their priority, Guldberg and Waage published their previous work for a third time, this time in the German journal Annalen der Chemie and in German, the lingua franca of 19th-century chemistry. In 1884, in his Études de Dynamique Chimique, van’t Hoff finally mentioned their work, thus assuring their priority.After completing his collaboration with Guldberg, Waage concentrated more and more on practical problems and on social and religious work, dealing largely with nutrition and public health, such as his discovery of methods for producing unsweetened condensed milk and sterilized canned milk. He also developed an excellent, highly concentrated fish meal  used on Norwegian ships and expeditions and exported to Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Germany. Beer was then taxed according to the amount of malt used in its brewing, but Waage proposed that it be taxed according to its alcoholic content, and he developed a new method for determining this concentration by measuring the boiling point.

He was chairman of the Norwegian Polytechnic Society from 1868 to 1869, and the first chairman of the Norwegian branch of the YMCA when it was established in 1880.He left this world in 1900.


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