University Archives & Special Collections, A-4756. (Patrick Hayes)

Thorbergur Thorvaldson

In the 1920s, Thorbergur Thorvaldson, the head of the Department of Chemistry, earned an international reputation for his work on Portland cement.

Across Western Canada public and private concrete structures were crumbling.

A series of tests showed that sulphates in the alkaline soil were causing the cement to swell and break down. Collaborating with a series of graduate students, Thorvaldson was able to develop a formula for cement that was resistant to sulfates.

The result was a worldwide change in the manufacture of commercial cement that significantly increased the durability of concrete structures.

Because there was no patent issued with regard to the process, neither Thorvaldson nor the University of Saskatchewan benefited financially.

In the fall of 1966 the Chemistry Building, including a planned addition, was renamed the Thorvaldson Building. A concrete block in front of the building symbolizes his contribution to the durability of this common construction material.

The above image is of cement blocks that had been buried for several years. The note on the back of the photo read: “Original blocks put in a site 1st Ave — 22-23rd taken out in 1928 when Massey Harris Building put up.”  

Share this story