Schwann , Theodor

(1810–1882) German physiologist
Born at Neuss in Germany, Schwann was educated at the universities of Bonn, Würzburg, and Berlin where he obtained his MD in 1834. He worked with Johannes Müller in Berlin from 1834 until 1838 when he moved to Belgium, serving as professor of anatomy first at Louvain (1838–47) and thereafter at Liège until his death.
Schwann's first experiments at Berlin were on muscle contraction. He showed that the mechanism of contraction could be explained without invoking any vital principles – a marked departure from the teachings of Müller. This mechanistic philosophy was fruitfully developed by Schwann's successors at Berlin, Emil du Bois-Reymond and Hermann von Helmholtz. Schwann next conducted some experiments to disprove (again) the theory of spontaneous generation, which was enjoying a renaissance in the mid 1830s. One unexpected outcome of his experiments on putrefaction and fermentation was his discovery in 1836, independently of Cagniard de la Tour, that yeast is involved in fermentation. The same year Schwann also discovered the digestive enzyme pepsin.
His most memorable achievement however is his Mikroskopische Untersuchungen (1839; Microscopical Researches) in which he first formulated, at the same time as Matthias Schleiden, the most important of all ideas in modern biology, namely that “cellular formation might be a widely extended, perhaps a universal principle for the formation of organic substances.”
In 1838 Schleiden had proposed that all plant tissue was composed of nucleated cells. Using the newly introduced achromatic microscope Schwann went on to examine a variety of tissues taken from several different animals. He surmised that fibers, ducts, etc., do not form directly from molecules but rather are built up from cells. The process of cell formation he saw as something like that of crystallization: cells were not formed from other cells but somehow condensed out of intercellular ‘nutrient liquid’. One further radical misconception was that the cellular material, Schwann's cytoblastema, was devoid of structure.
Despite such errors the cell theory met with rapid acceptance. Improvements were soon made. Robert Remak first described cell division in 1841 and by 1855 Rudolf Virchow could issue the new dogma omnis cellula e cellula (all cells come from cells). The cytoblastema also came in for revision; renamed protoplasm, it was shown by Max Schultze in 1861 to have definite properties and a structure.
Despite these successes Schwann's work on fermentation was savagely criticized by leading chemists of the time, notably Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler. A particularly damaging paper by the pair was published in 1839 after which Schwann found it impossible to continue his career in Germany. In Belgium he conscientiously carried out his professional duties and invented some useful equipment for the mining industry. His brilliant contributions to physiology, however, virtually ceased. Not until Pasteur's work in the 1850s was Schwann vindicated.

Scientists. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • SCHWANN Théodor — (1810 1882) (retrato): fisiológo alemán, célebre por sus estudios sobre la estructura y función de las células animales y vegetales que le llevaron a demostrar que ambos tipos de células compartían muchas propiedades. Son conocidas sobre todo las …   Diccionario médico

  • Schwann, Theodor — • German physiologist and founder of the theory of the cellular structure of animal organisms; b. at Neuss, 7 December, 1810; d. Cologne, 11 January, 1882 Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Schwann,Theodor — Schwann (shvän), Theodor. 1810 1882. German physiologist and pioneer histologist who described the cell as the basic structure of animal tissue. * * * …   Universalium

  • Schwann, Theodor — ► (1810 82) Fisiólogo y anatomista alemán. Se ha dado su nombre a la cubierta mielínica de las fibras nerviosas (vaina de Schwann). * * * (7 dic. 1810, Neuss, Prusia–11 ene. 1882, Colonia, Alemania). Fisiólogo alemán. Fundó la histología moderna… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Schwann, Theodor — born Dec. 7, 1810, Neuss, Prussia died Jan. 11, 1882, Cologne, Ger. German physiologist. He founded modern histology by recognizing the cell as the basic unit of animal structure. A year after Mathias Jacob Schleiden, a colleague Schwann knew… …   Universalium

  • SCHWANN, THEODOR —    German physiologist, born at Neuss; made several discoveries in physiology, and established the cell theory (1810 1882) …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Schwann — Theodor …   Scientists

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  • Theodor Schwann — Theodor Schwann, Lithographie von Rudolf Hoffmann, 1857 Theodor Schwann …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Theodor Schwann — Theodor Schwann, né le 7 décembre 1810 à Neuss et mort le 11 janvier 1882 à Cologne est un physiologiste, histologiste et cytologiste allemand …   Wikipédia en Français

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