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 Karl Ernst von Baer

Born:   28 February 1792
Deceased:   28 November 1876

Russian natural scientist and father of embryology


Karl Ernst von Baer, a famous natural scientist and father of embryology, was born in the Russian Empire to the family of an Estonian nobleman in 1792.

Little Karl became interested in nature very early – he often brought home snails or fossilized things. However, at 7 he couldn’t read and knew no alphabet. Later on the boy got educated at home with teachers, learning mathematics, geography, Latin and French languages, etc. At the age of 11, Karl already got acquainted with algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

In 1807 Karl von Baer was brought to a school for children of noblemen, where he was admitted to senior grades because of his brilliant background. He drank from school’s spring of knowledge till 1810, when he became a student of Dorpat (Tartu) University and decided to make a career in medical science.

In 1814 Karl Ernst von Baer successfully passed an examination for e Doctor of Medicine degree. His thesis described endemic diseases in Governorate of Estonia of Russian Empire. The scientists felt that his knowledge could have been better, and in 1815he went to Europe to continue his education, after borrowing money for that from his father and elder brother. Karl Ernst von Baer visited Vienna and Wurzburg, where learned a lot about anatomy of various animals.

With his allowance slowly coming to an end, von Baer was very happy to be offered a position at the physiology department of Konigsberg University. The scientist immediately started reading a course of comparative anatomy of invertebrates, and this was when his teaching and research life began. Karl Ernst von Baer was a very active scientist – he read lectures, helped students to learn anatomy on bodies, and wrote scientific papers.

In 1819 his scientific career moved one step further – Karl Ernst von Baer became an extraordinary zoology professor with an assignment to open a zoological museum at the same university. The same year he got married. With time Karl von Baer became loved and respected in many families of the city of Konigsberg, who weren’t related to the university.

In 1826 Karl Ernst von Baer became an ordinary professor of anatomy and headed a research institute in this field. That was the time of flourish – the scientist read lectures in anatomy and zoology, made presentations at conferences, wrote many research articles. Von Baer contributed a lot to the theory of types, based upon comparative anatomy, and confirmed in with facts on history of organism development.

Works, we all know Karl Ernst von Baer, were embryological studies. First volume of his famous “History of animal development” came off the press in 1828. Studying chicken embryogenesis, the scientist was dawned by the idea that embryo development depended on an organism type. He checked his idea on other animal and understood that he was right. Other researchers said that nothing new and important could have appeared in vertebrate embryology ever since von Baer’s study appeared. Since 1834 the scientist lived in St. Petersburg.

In 1837 Karl Ernst von Baer became the first natural scientist, who had ever visited the island Novaya Zemlya. Between 1851 and 1857 von Baer travelled across Russia and was involved in geography, ethnography and applied zoology studies.

In 1857 the scientist returned to St. Petersburg. Having left his youth behind, Karl Ernst von Baer dedicated himself to anthropology and brought many new exhibits to local anatomy museum. However, anthropology wasn’t the only science that engaged von Baer’s thoughts – the researcher actively participated in establishment of Russian Entomology Society. In 1862 the scientist retired and was elected a honorary member of the Academy of Sciences.

On November 28 1876 Karl Ernst von Baer peacefully died in his bed.

Tags: Russian scientists     

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