Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, MD, PhD


Contributed by Puja Laroia, OMS-III MSUCOM

Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke was born on September 6th, 1819.[1] He was the son of a portrait and historical painter, Johann Gottfried Brücke, and intended to follow in his father's footsteps.[2] Even though he went on to become a doctor, he spent much of his time delving into questions about art theory which inevitably became an integral component of his life’s work.[2]

Brücke began his studies at the University of Berlin in 1838 and graduated in 1842 as a doctor of medicine and surgery.[2,3,4] He attempted to prove in this dissertation that the phenomena of osmosis are not due to any other forces except physicochemical ones.[2] To prove his theory, the eye was an especially appropriate focus. Brücke studied optical media, afterimages, stereoscopic vision, and light reflection from the backgrounds of vertebrate eyes; he also discovered the ciliary muscle – the Brücke’s muscle, which was named after him.[2,4,5] For modern oculists, his Anatomical Description of the Human Eye (1847) has become the standard anatomical-histological work.[5] Dr. Brücke was named professor of physiology at the University of Könisgsberg in 1848 and later brought the same title to the University of Vienna, where he established a school for physiologists that grew to reach well beyond Austria's borders, and where he worked until his death on January 7th, 1892.[2,3]

Brücke was the first to postulate that the red color of the luminous pupil was attributable to choroidal blood vessel reflection in 1845.[6] Brücke then attempted to build a device that would illuminate the retina but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Hermann von Helmholtz was developing new ophthalmoscope models.[6] The first prototype had only a single minus corrective lens, while later variants contained multiple minus and two plus lenses.[6] Brücke’s research on luminescence in animal eyes, as well as his method of causing luminescence, laid the groundwork for von Helmholtz's subsequent work, which led to the invention of the ophthalmoscope in 1851.[6]

In his scientific career,  Brücke studied a wide range of physiological topics. From the luminescence of the human eye to linguistic and vocal physiology, to the physiology of digestion, Brücke was regarded as one of the most versatile physiologists of his time.

Dr. Brücke was a colleague and teacher to many well-known scientists. One such individual is Sigmund Freud, the man who investigated the chaotic realms of the mind – desires, dreams, and wishes.[7] Freud began his journey by studying the anatomy of the brain at the University of Vienna between 1876 and 1882 where Brücke was his teacher. Freud wrote, “With his piercing blue eyes and penetrating intellect, Brücke was a formidable figure. The greatest authority, I ever met."[7]

Brücke had 143 publications under his belt when he retired from teaching in 1890.[2] The number of various areas of work demonstrates the breadth of this output: physics, plant physiology, microscopic anatomy, and physiological optics, to name a few. Several academies bestowed accolades on him, including the Honour of Merit, the highest Prussian order.[2] He was genuinely a brilliant researcher, who was interested in analyzing natural events to determine their exact science.



Founded the Physical Society in Berlin along with Emil Du Bois-Reymond, Hermann von Helmholtz, Heinrich Gustav Magnus and others. The society is now known as the German Society of Physics.

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Release of Anatomical Description of the Human Eye and discovery of Brücke’s ciliary muscle.

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Appointed Professor of Physiology at the University of Vienna and member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

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Hermann von Helmholtz invented the ophthalmoscope on the foundation of Dr. Brücke’s research on luminescence.

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Elected Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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Academic Appointment


  • Associate Professor at the University of Berlin, Germany
  • Associate Professor at the University of Vienna, Austria

Education & Training

Medical Degree: University of Berlin, Germany

Photo Gallery

Figure 1 (A) The human choroidal tensor muscle (h) described by Brücke. On the left, the section through the eye runs through a ciliary process, on the right in between two of these. A Lens; B anterior chamber; a Schlemm's canal; b iris; c Zinn's zonules; k hyal hyaloidtunic (Brücke 1847). (B) Superficial, longitudinal (f) and circular(g) human ciliary muscle fibers. The oblique fibers b1 and longitudinal ones c1 and c2 are not there (Müller 1857). From De Jong, P.T. (2020). Utilized with Permission.

Figure (2) Helmholtz Ophthalmoscope with a single correcting lens. Photo Courtesy Leffler, C. T., & Keeler, R.

Figure (3) Helmholtz Ophthalmoscope with multiple correcting lenses. Photo Courtesy Leffler, C. T., & Keeler, R.


  1. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia (2022, May 2). Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke. Encyclopedia Britannica. von-Brucke
  2. "Brücke, Ernst Wilhelm von." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Retrieved May 2, 2022 from thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/brucke-ernst-wilhelm-von
  1. Ernst von Brücke. (1970, January 1). Retrieved May 2, 2022, from
  2. Brücke E (1847): Anatomische Beschreibung des menschlichen Augapfels. Berlin: Reimer 18.
  3. de Jong, P.T. (2020), The quest for the human ocular accommodation mechanism. Acta Ophthalmol, 98: 98-104.
  4. Leffler, C. T., & Keeler , R. (2020). Chapter 11. Helmholtz and the Development of the Ophthalmoscope. In The history of glaucoma (pp. 248–249). Wayenborgh Publications.
  5. Grubin, D. (2002). Young Dr. Freud - A film by David Grubin. Retrieved from PBS:

(Tribute published 2022)