Niels Ryberg Finsen (December 15, 1860 – September 24, 1904) was a Icelandic/Faroese/Danish physician and scientist. In 1903 he became the first Danish 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 Tórshavn
, Faroe Islands
, 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 Tórshavn
in 1858 when his father was given the position of Landfoged
of the Faroe Islands
. 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 Amtmand
of the Faroe Islands
. Niels Finsen got his early education in Tórshavn
, 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 skólinn
, in Reykjavík
in 1876. While studying there, his grades improved greatly.
Studies in medicine
In 1882, Niels Finsen moved to Copenhagen
to study medicine at the University of Copenhagen
, from which he graduated in 1890. Following graduation, he became a prosector
at the University of Copenhagen
. 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 Hospital and currently serves as a cancer research laboratory that specializes in proteolysis.
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 in spite of having to spend his last years confined to a wheelchair, he continued to make great contributions to medicine.
The Finsen Institute at Copenhagen University Hospital
is named in his honor, and in Tórshavn
there is a memorial to Niels Finsen, as well as one of the city's main streets bearing his name.