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Niels Ryberg Finsen (December 15, 1860September 24, 1904) was a Danishmarker/Faroesemarker/Icelandicmarker physician and scientist. In 1903 he became the first Danishmarker Nobel laureate. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology "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."


Niels Finsen was born in Tórshavnmarker, Faroe Islandsmarker, as the 2nd oldest of four children of 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. The family had moved to Tórshavnmarker from Icelandmarker in 1858 when his father was given the position of Landfoged of the Faroe Islandsmarker. In 1864 when Niels was four years old his mother died, and his father remarried his mother's cousin Birgitte Kirstine Formann, with whom he had six children. In 1871 his father was made Amtmann of the Faroe Islandsmarker. Niels Finsen got his early education in Tórshavnmarker, but in 1874 he was sent to the Danish Boarding school Herlufsholm, where his older brother Olaf Finsen was also a student. Unlike Olaf, Niels had a very difficult stay at Herlufsholm, culminating with a statement from the Principal which claimed Niels to be "a boy of good heart but low skills and energy", a statement that stands in sharp contrast with Niels Finsen's later work and research. As a consequence of his low grades, he was enrolled in his father's old school, Lærði skólinnmarker, in Reykjavíkmarker in 1876. While studying there, his grades improved greatly.

Studies in medicine

In 1882, Niels Finsen moved to Copenhagenmarker to study medicine at the University of Copenhagenmarker, from which he graduated in 1890. Following graduation, he became a prosector of anatomy at the University of Copenhagenmarker. After three years, he quit this 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 Niels Finsen as its director. It was later merged into Copenhagen University Hospitalmarker and currently serves as a cancer research laboratory that specializes in proteolysis.

Finsen is best known for his theory of Phototherapy, that 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) of 1896. These were rapidly translated into German, and his work was published as La Photothérapie in 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).

Personal life

In 1889, Niels Finsen became engaged to Ingeborg Balslev (1868–1963); they were married on 29 December 1892. From the mid 1880s and onward, Niels Finsen's health began to fail. He had symptoms of heart trouble and suffered from ascites and general weakness. This sickness disabled his body but not his mind, and from his wheelchair, he continued to make great contributions to medicine.


The Finsen Laboratory at Copenhagen University Hospital is named in his honor, and in Tórshavnmarker there is a memorial to Niels Finsen, as well as one of the city's main streets 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.


  1. Medicine 1903 at
  3. Tegner Museum, Reaching towards the light

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