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Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg
Ehrenberg, Christian Gottfried, by Eduard Radke.jpg
Painting by Eduard Radke
Born 19 April 1795 (1795-04-19)
Delitzsch, Saxony, Germany
Died 27 June 1876 (1876-06-28) (aged 81)
Berlin, Germany
Education University of Leipzig, University of Berlin
Known for Symbolae physicae
Spouse(s) Julie Rose, Karoline Friederike Friccius
Children Four surviving daughters by first wife: Helene (married Johannes von Hanstein), Mathilde (married Karl Friedrich August Rammelsberg), Laura and Clara Ehrenberg. One son by second wife: Hermann Alexander
Parent(s) Johann Gottfried Ehrenberg and Christiane Dorothea Becker
Awards Wollaston Medal (1839)
Leeuwenhoek Medal (1877), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, foreign member of the Royal Society of London
Scientific career
Fields naturalist
Institutions University of Berlin
Notable students Ferdinand Julius Cohn
Influences Alexander von Humboldt
Author abbrev. (botany) Ehrenb.

Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (19 April 1795 – 27 June 1876) was a German naturalist, zoologist, comparative anatomist, geologist, and microscopist. Ehrenberg was an evangelist and was considered to be of the most famous and productive scientists of his time.

Early collections

The son of a judge, Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg was born in Delitzsch, near Leipzig. He first studied theology at the University of Leipzig, then medicine and natural sciences in Berlin and became a friend of the famous explorer Alexander von Humboldt. In 1818, he completed his doctoral dissertation on fungi, Sylvae mycologicae Berolinenses.

In 1820–1825, on a scientific expedition to the Middle East with his friend Wilhelm Hemprich, he collected thousands of specimens of plants and animals. He investigated parts of Egypt, the Libyan Desert, the Nile valley and the northern coasts of the Red Sea, where he made a special study of the corals. Subsequently, parts of Syria, Arabia and Abyssinia were examined. Some results of these travels and of the important collections that had been made were reported on by Humboldt in 1826. While in Sudan he designed the mansion of the local governor of Dongola, Abidin Bey.

After his return, Ehrenberg published several papers on insects and corals and two volumes Symbolae physicae (1828–1834), in which many particulars of the mammals, birds, insects, etc., were made public. Other observations were communicated to scientific societies.

Focus on microscopic organisms

Ehrenberg was appointed professor of medicine at Berlin University in 1827. In 1829 he accompanied Humboldt through eastern Russia to the Chinese frontier. After his return he began to concentrate his studies on microscopic organisms, which until then had not been systematically studied.

For nearly 30 years Ehrenberg examined samples of water, soil, sediment, blowing dust and rock and described thousands of new species, among them well-known flagellates such as Euglena, ciliates such as Paramecium aurelia and Paramecium caudatum, and many fossils, in nearly 400 scientific publications. He was particularly interested in a unicellular group of protists called diatoms, but he also studied, and named, many species of radiolaria, foraminifera and dinoflagellates.

This research had an important bearing on some of the infusorial earths used for polishing and other economic purposes; they added, moreover, largely to our knowledge of the microorganisms of certain geological formations, especially of the chalk, and of the marine and freshwater accumulations. Until Ehrenberg took up the study it was not known that considerable masses of rock were composed of minute forms of animals or plants. He also demonstrated that the phosphorescence of the sea was due to organisms.

He was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences from 1836 and a foreign member of the Royal Society of London from 1837. In 1839, he won the Wollaston Medal, the highest award granted by the Geological Society of London. Ehrenberg was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1849. He continued until late in life to investigate the microscopic organisms of the deep sea and of various geological formations. He died in Berlin on 27 June 1876.


After his death in 1876, his collections of microscopic organisms were deposited in the Berlin's Natural History Museum (this museum was a part of the University of Berlin until it left the university in 2009). The "Ehrenberg Collection" includes 40,000 microscope preparations, 5,000 raw samples, 3,000 pencil and ink drawings, and nearly 1,000 letters of correspondence. His collection of scorpions, and other arachnids from the Middle East, is also held in the Berlin Museum. Many herbaria around the world also hold botanical collections made by Ehrenberg, including the National Herbarium of Victoria at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, the National Museum of Natural History, France and the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

He was also the first winner of the Leeuwenhoek Medal in 1877.

In his hometown, Delitzsch, the highest A-Level school, the "Ehrenberg-Gymnasium" is named after him. The best student of the school year receives the Ehrenberg Prize and a scholarship.

Ehrenberg Island in the Svalbard archipelago is named after Ehrenberg.

In 1998 the Linnean Society of London dedicated a special issue to "Christian Gottfried Ehrenburg (1795–1876) The man and his legacy".


Christian Ehrenberg was the son of Johann Gottfried Ehrenberg (1757–1826) and his wife Christiane Dorothea Becker (1769–1808). His brother Carl August Ehrenberg (1801–1849) became a botanist and plant collector. After attending the same expedition (as part of Humboldt's team) with Gustav Rose, (who was the brother of Heinrich Rose), Ehrenberg married Gustav's cousin Julie Rose (1804–1848). After their first son died in infancy they had four daughters: Helene (* 1834), Mathilde (1835–1890), Laura (*1836) and Clara Ehrenberg (1838–1916). His youngest daughter Clara Ehrenberg was his assistant for over twelve years. She aided his scientific research, organised and indexed his collections and correspondence, and prepared a taxonomic reference book. Clara was also a published scientific illustrator. Helene married the botanist Johannes von Hanstein and Mathilde married the mineraologist Karl Friedrich August Rammelsberg.

In 1852 Ehrenberg married his second wife, Karoline Friederike Friccius (1812–95), who was related to the chemist Eilhard Mitscherlich. The couple had one son, Hermann Alexander Ehernberg.

Standard author abbreviation

His zoological author abbreviation is Ehrenberg. This query lists taxa authored by him. See also Taxa named by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg.

See also

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