Scientist Highlight: Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen

No matter how you are initially introduced to chemistry, one of the most common principles taught is the pH scale – the measure of acidity/basicity of water. In this Scientist Highlight, we will dive into another highly successful alumnus of the Carlsberg Laboratory (see our Kjeldahl Highlight for further details) and how his work had a huge impact on both food and analytical chemistry.

Born in Havreberg, a small farming town in Denmark in 1868, Sørensen was the son of a farmer. Academically gifted, he went to study at the University of Copenhagen with the aim of pursuing a career in medicine. However under the tutelage of the influential chemist SM Jørgensen, he soon shifted his focus to studying Chemistry.

During his studies he worked for both the local dockyard and as a consultant for the Danish Navy. He soon received his doctorate for his research into cobalt oxalates, inorganic coordination polymers that are known for their applications within nanotechnology and preparation of cobalt catalysts.

By only the age of 33, Sørensen had become the head of Chemistry at the Carlsberg Laboratory. His most famous work was developing and introducing the pH scale, which came about from studying the effect of ion concentration on proteins (in the name of brewing beer!). He realised the importance of hydrogen ion concentration in how the enzymes produced by these proteins functioned and needed to keep track of the conditions in solution.

To this day the scale is still ubiquitously used to describe the alkalinity or acidity of either a substance or solution. Although less commonly known, Sørensen’s second wife Margrethe Høyrup Sørensen assisted him in his studies. The husband-and-wife pairing were the first to successfully crystallise egg whites during an experiment in 1917.

Sørensen died February 12th, 1939, having worked at the Carlsberg Laboratory for the vast majority of his scientific career. His work continues to be critical to this day, far beyond the initial use for both his research and the pH scale!

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