Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von

SUBJECT AREA: Medical technology
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b. 31 August 1821 Potsdam, Germany
d. 8 September 1894 Berlin, Germany
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German physicist and man of science, inventor of the ophthalmoscope.
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Constrained by poverty despite displaying considerable gifts, particularly in the realm of mathematics, he became a surgeon in the Prussian Army but was able to undertake research; in 1842 he wrote a thesis on the discovery of nerve cells in ganglia. He became Professor of Physiology in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) in 1849. moving to a similar post in Bonn in 1855, to Heidelberg in 1858, and the Chair of Physic in Berlin in 1871. This latter included the directorship of the physicotechnical institute at Charlottenburg.
His investigations over the years encompassed almost the whole field of science, including physiology, physiological optics, physiological acoustics, chemistry, mathematics, electricity and magnetism, meteorology and theoretical mechanics. He also made important additions to the understanding of putrefaction and fermentation.
Helmholtz's contributions to the understanding of vision and optics ranged widely, but one of the most significant was the definitive development of the ophthalmoscope in 1851. Incorporating some of the aspects of Babbage's original suggestions (which were not brought to practical fruition), his instrument inaugurated a new diagnostic era in ophthalmology, particularly when his method of direct ophthalmoscopy was supplemented by the indirect method of Ruete. His personal life was uneventful, in contrast to his inventive achievements, which were perhaps unequalled in scope in his century. Michael Faraday's tribute, "the absolute simplicity, modesty and untroubled purity of his disposition had a charm such as I have never encountered in another man", is therefore all the more to be valued.
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Bibliography
1850. "The ophthalmoscope", Physikalische Gesellschaft, Berlin.
1851. Beschreibung eines Augen-Spiegels zur Untersuchung der Netzhaut im lebenden Auge, Berlin. 1856–66, Physiological Optics (2 vols).
Further Reading
L.Konigsberger, 1906, trans. F.A.Welby, Hermann von Helmholtz, Oxford.
MG

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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