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Johannes Peter Müller (1801-1858)

Anatomist and physiologist Johannes Müller inspired an entire generation of German scientists. Advocating microscopical research, chemical analysis, and physiological experimentation, he shaped the modern science of physiology and made Berlin one of Europe’s leading centers for medical research. Müller’s comparative anatomical studies revealed the functions of the nervous, sensory, endocrine, and reproductive systems. With his research trips and museum-building, he also helped to establish the science of oceanography.

Son of a Koblenz shoe-maker, Müller was born on July 14, 1801. Until Müller’s fourteenth year, his region was run by France, and he benefited educationally when the Rhineland passed from French into Prussian hands in 1815. At the Koblenz Gymnasium, Müller’s talents for mathematics and classical languages caught the attention of Prussian educational reformer Johannes Schulze, who convinced Müller’s father to send him to the newly founded Bonn University instead of teaching him leather-work. Since 1818, Cultural Minister Karl Freiherr vom Stein zum Altenstein (1770-1840) had been working to make the Bonn University a showcase for Prussian Protestant scholarship, particularly in the natural sciences. He had preferentially hired Naturphilosophen, scholars who developed theories of nature based on elaborate analogies (Steudel 1963, p. 568; Finkelstein 1996, p. 78). Inspired by the philosophy of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), Naturphilosophen believed that the order of nature corresponded to the structure of human consciousness and tried to discern patterns in natural structures, sometimes classifying animals by aligning them with human sensory systems. Müller began studying medicine at the Bonn University in the fall of 1819 and quickly embraced this approach to nature, earning his medical degree in 1822 with a doctoral thesis on the patterns of animal movement, especially in insects. His scientific strategy would soon change, however.

Reference: Otis, Laura. 2004. Johannes Müller. The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784), http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/references?id=enc22