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Great Scientists

Theodor Schwann

1810 - 1882

Theodor Schwann

Theodor Schwann was a German scientist who had a profound impact on biology by breaking with entrenched concepts prevalent in the mid 19th century.

  • Nationality
  • German

  • Subject
  • Biology

  • Fields
  • cell theory, physiology

  • Publications
  • Microscopic Investigations on the Accordance in the Structure and Growth of Plants and Animals, 1837, in which Schwann first formulated his discovery that all living things are composed of cells and cell products.

  • Theories
  • Cell theory

    Cellular origin of all differentiated tissues

    Principle of Embyrology

    Schwann invented the term 'metabolism'

    Organic nature of yeast, which inspired Pasteur and Lister in their work on antiseptics and germ theory

    Laid the foundations for the discipline of Histology

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Schwann Cells, the cells which envelope the nerve fibers

    Pepsin, an enzyme essential to digestion

    Observation that the ovum is a single cell which develops into a complete organism

He applied empirical techniques to challenge the concept of vitalism, explaining life as a physico-chemical process.His theory that yeast was organic, and that cellular multiplication was the cause of fermentation, became the inspiration for Pasteur in his germ theory, and led to the invention of antiseptics.

But he is best known for his contributions to Cell Theory. Schwann developed Matthias Schwann's work on plant cells, and Rudolf Virchow's discovery of the creation of new cells from existing cells, and realised that all life was based on cells, and that a full, diversified organism could grow from a single ovum.