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Niels Ryberg Finsen

Niels Ryberg Finsen
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-Danish 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 1
    • Studies in medicine 1.1
    • Personal life 1.2
  • Memorials 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


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: landfógeti; Danish: landfoged; Faroese: (land)fúti) 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 Amtmand 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". 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

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 [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

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]


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]


  1. ^ Medicine 1903 at
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Niels Ryberg Finsen - Biographical". Retrieved 2014-04-05. 
  4. ^ "Memoir of Funeral of Niels Ryberg Finsen, and Clippings 1904". National Library of Medicine. 
  5. ^ Tegner Museum, Reaching towards the light

External links

  • Biography from the Nobel Foundation
  • Niels Finsen, an engine of our ingenuity
  • An extensive biography on Niels Finsen (in Danish only)
  • The Finsen Institute at Copenhagen University Hospital
  • Our Friend, the Sun: Images of Light Therapeutics from the Osler Library Collection, c. 1901-1944. Digital exhibition by the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, McGill University
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