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Karl Ernst Ritter von Baer, Edler von Huthorn (Russian: Карл Эрнст фон Бэр

), also known in Russia as Karl Maksimovich Baer (Russian: Карл Макси́мович Бэр

, Template:OldStyleDateTemplate:OldStyleDate), was an Estonian[1][2][3] naturalist, biologist, geologist, meteorologist, geographer, a founding father of embryology, explorer of European Russia and Scandinavia, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a co-founder of the Russian Geographical Society and the first President of the Russian Entomological Society.[4][5][6][7]


Statue of Karl Ernst von Baer on Toome Hill, Tartu. As a tradition, students wash the head of statue with champagne every Walpurgis Night.[8]

File:Baer Edle von Huthorn wappen.jpg

Coat of arms of Baer family

Life[edit | edit source]

Karl Ernst von Baer was born into a Baltic German noble family in the Piep estate, Wierland, Estonia, as a Knight by birthright. Many of his ancestors had come from Westphalia. He was educated at the Knight and Cathedral School in Reval, (Tallinn) and the Imperial University of Dorpat (Tartu), each of which he found lacking in quality education. In 1812, during his tenure at the university, he was sent to Riga to aid the city after Napoleon's armies had laid siege to it. As he attempted to help the sick and wounded, he realized that his education at Dorpat had been inadequate, and upon his graduation he notified his father that he would need to go abroad to "finish" his education. In his autobiography his discontent with his education at Dorpat inspired him to write a lengthy appraisal of education in general, a summary that dominated the content of the book. After leaving Tartu, he continued his education in Berlin, Vienna, and Würzburg where Ignaz Döllinger introduced him to the new field of embryology.

In 1817, he became a professor at Königsberg University (Kaliningrad) and full professor of zoology in 1821, and of anatomy in 1826. In 1829 he taught briefly in St. Petersburg, but returned to Königsberg. In 1834 Baer moved back to St Petersburg and joined the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, first in zoology (1834–46) and then in comparative anatomy and physiology (1846–62). His interests while there were anatomy, ichthyology, ethnography, anthropology and geography. While embryology had kept his attention in Königsbert, then in Russia von Baer engaged in a large deal of field research, including the exploration of the island Novaya Zemlya. The last years of his life (1867–76) were spent in Dorpat, where he became a leading critic of Charles Darwin.[9]

In 1849, he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[10] He was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1850. He was the president of the Estonian Naturalists' Society in 1869–1876.

A statue honouring him can be found on Toome Hill in Tartu. Before the Estonian conversion to the euro, the 2 kroon bank note used to bear his portrait.

Contributions[edit | edit source]

Time perception[edit | edit source]

Baer was a pioneer in studying biological time – the perception of time in different organisms. This approach was further developed by Jakob von Uexküll.

Embryology[edit | edit source]

File:Karl Ernst von Baer 2.jpg

Karl Ernst von Baer

von Baer studied the embryonic development of animals, discovering the blastula stage of development and the notochord. Together with Heinz Christian Pander and based on the work by Caspar Friedrich Wolff he described the germ layer theory of development (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm) as a principle in a variety of species, laying the foundation for comparative embryology in the book Über Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere (1828). In 1826 Baer discovered the mammalian ovum. The first human ovum was described by Allen in 1928. In 1827 he completed research Ovi Mammalium et Hominis genesi for Saint-Petersburg's Academy of Science (published at Leipzig[11][12]) and established that mammals develop from eggs.

Baer's laws (embryology)[edit | edit source]

He formulated what would later be called Baer's laws of embryology:

  1. General characteristics of the group to which an embryo belongs develop before special characteristics.
  2. General structural relations are likewise formed before the most specific appear.
  3. The form of any given embryo does not converge upon other definite forms but, on the contrary, separates itself from them.
  4. Fundamentally, the embryo of a higher animal form never resembles the adult of another animal form, such as one less evolved, but only its embryo.

In old age

File:Скульптура Карла Максимовича Бэра.jpg

Monument to Baer in the Zoological Museum in Saint Petersburg

Entomology[edit | edit source]

Baer contributed to studies in entomology and was a cofounder as well as the first President of the Russian Entomological Society.

Named in honor[edit | edit source]

Baer Island in the Taymyr Gulf of the Kara Sea.

Works[edit | edit source]

  • Karl Ernst von Baer, Grigoriĭ Petrovich Gelʹmersen. "Beiträge zur Kenntniss des russischen Reiches und der angränzenden Länder Asiens". Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1839. On Google Books (German)

Further reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. K. J. Betteridge (1981). An historical look at embryo transfer. Reproduction. The Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility 62: 1–13.
  2. Karl Clausberg (2006). "Karl Ernst von Baer" Zwischen den Sternen: Lichtbildarchive. Was Einstein und Uexküll, Benjamin und das Kino der Astronomie des 19. Jahrhunderts verdanken (in German), Berlin: Akademie Verlag. "...- dreizehn Jahre später von dem berühmten Estländer Biologen Karl Ernst von Baer..."
  3. J.M.S. Pearce, M.D. (2010). Evolution from recapitulation theory to Neural Darwinism. Hektoen International. A Journal of Medical Humanities 2 (2).
  4. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. (2001). How economics forgot history: the problem of historical specificity in social science, New York: Routledge.
  5. Barbieri, Marcello (2007). Biosemiotics: Information, Codes and Signs in Living Systems, Nova Publishers.
  6. Lockwood, Michael (2005). The labyrinth of time: introducing the universe, Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press.
  7. (2003) Lonely Planet Estonia Latvia & Lithuania (Lonely Planet Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Hawthorn, Vic., Australia: Lonely Planet Publications.
  8. Kõik algab munast
  9. Alexander Vucinich (1988). Darwin in Russian thought, 92–99, University of California Press. URL accessed 1 September 2011.
  10. Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter B. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. URL accessed on 5 May 2011.
  1. Wood C, Trounson A. Clinical In Vitro Fertilization. Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1984, Page 6.
  2. Medical eponyms
  3. Baer, K E v. "Über ein allgemeines Gesetz in der Gestaltung der Flußbetten", Kaspische Studien, 1860, VIII, S. 1–6.

External links[edit | edit source]

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