Light as Medicine: Niels Finsen’s Phototherapy

Stephen R. Wilk

The inventor of the Finsen light made strides in understanding the effects of ultraviolet light in the treatment of disease.

figureFinsen light being used to treat lupus vulgaris patients. [Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images (CC BY 4.0)]

Around 1870, a young Niels Ryberg Finsen carefully carved his initials in a boulder outside Tórshavn, the capital city of the Faroe Islands, located far north of Scotland in the North Sea. His father Hannes, originally from Iceland, had been appointed landfoged (sheriff and revenue collector) to the region and in 1871 would become Amtmand (Prefect). After Finsen’s early education in Tórshavn, he attended boarding schools in Denmark and Iceland before enrolling at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He became first an anatomist and later a professor.

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