Universität Bonn

Institute for Physiology

History of the institute

The University of Bonn's Faculty of Medicine was founded on October 18, 1818. The first domicile of the medical institutions was the Electoral Palace, where two institutions were designated for the medical sciences, the "anatomical theater and the clinicum". Anatomy, which at that time included physiology as well as pathological anatomy, was housed in the southeast wing of the palace. For more than 50 years, the premises of the medical sciences remained in the former residential palace. It was only during the Empire that new buildings were erected outside the city center for institutes and clinics.
With the appointment of Eduard Pflüger as full professor of physiology at the University of Bonn's Faculty of Medicine in 1859, physiology was established as an independent subject and a separation of the professorships of anatomy and physiology was achieved. The newly founded Physiological Institute was initially housed in simple rooms before moving into the building at the Hofgarten, today's Academic Art Museum, in 1872. In November 1878, the Physiological Institute moved into the new institute building in the new development area for the natural science and agricultural institutes in Poppelsdorf. After a comprehensive renovation of the building, the Institute of Physiology II moved from Wilhelmstraße back to Nussallee in 2010. The Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is also located in the building.

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Uni Bonn

Pioneers of biology and medicine

Johannes Müller (1801-1858) is considered one of the pioneers of 19th century biology and medicine. His work was remarkable for comparative anatomy, embryology, and general and experimental physiology. By creatively linking romantic natural philosophy and scientific achievements, Müller succeeded in laying essential foundations for modern physiology and biology.

»With Johannes Müller, the medicine of Goethe's time took its leave, so to speak, and finally mutated into natural science«1.

In 1819, Müller enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Bonn. He completed his studies in 1822 with a doctorate. Barely two years later he habilitated in physiology and comparative anatomy and physiology. In 1833 he accepted a call to a chair in Berlin, which he held until his death in 1858. Although he belonged to the University of Bonn's Faculty of Medicine for only a few years, he was one of its most important personalities. In 1824, he was one of the first habilitation students to receive the venia legendi at the institute.
During his time in Bonn, Müller devoted himself in particular to comparative anatomical studies of the sensory organs and sensory-physiological experiments, and undertook intensive self-observations. His Bonn work still bears witness to his natural philosophical origins.
An essential creation of the years in Bonn, also for the further history of physiology, was the "Handbuch der Physiologie für Vorlesungen" (Manual of Physiology for Lectures).
Müller's students included: Hermann von Helmholtz, Rudolf Virchow, Ernst Haeckel and Emil du Bois-Reymond, who became leading figures of their time in the scientific era of medicine.

Even during the early years following the rebuilding of the Physiological Institute, lively research and teaching activities developed. In 1868, Eduard Pflüger founded the journal "Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie des Menschen und der Tiere". Today, under the title "Pflügers Archiv, European Journal of Physiology," this journal is the official journal of the Federation of European Physiological Societies.

Founding director of the physiological institute

Eduard Pflüger (1829-1910), founding director of the physiological institute, represented the subject of physiology for half a century at the Faculty of Medicine in Bonn. The institute was considered one of the best equipped of its time. Pflüger's laboratory here in Bonn became one of the most important centers in the field of metabolic research.

Pflüger turned to medicine in 1850, studying in Marburg and Berlin as a student of Johannes Müller and Emil Du Bois-Reymond. In 1853 he received his doctorate "Ueber das Hemmungs-Nervensystem für die peristalischen Bewegungen der Gedärme" (On the inhibitory nervous system for the peristal movements of the intestines), subsequently becoming Emil Du Bois-Reymond's assistant. In 1858 he habilitated in physiology and one year later accepted the call as full professor to the new chair of physiology at the University of Bonn. Pflüger was primarily concerned with the sensory functions of the spinal cord, respiratory physiology and electrotonus.

From 1889 to 1890 he presided over the university as rector. During this time he was also appointed Privy Councillor of Medicine.
Because of his special achievements in the field of the function of nerves and cells, Pflüger was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times after 1902. One of his most important students was Nathan Zuntz.

Pflüger's studies are characterized by methodical care and fruitful experimental arrangements, thanks to which he was able to explore fundamental physiological processes under overarching theories such as evolution. The "Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie," which he edited and contributed to, enjoyed international recognition.

One name that is closely linked to Eduard Pflüger is Nathan Zuntz (1847-1920). Nathan Zuntz came from the Zuntz coffee roasting dynasty in Bonn, whose company A. Zuntz sel. Wwe was founded in 1837 (the A. Zuntz sel. Wwe brand is now owned by the Dallmayr company). In 1864, Zuntz decided to study medicine at the local university. At the end of his studies, Zuntz worked as a sub-doctor for Hugo Ruehle at the Medical Clinic in Bonn. In 1870 he became an assistant to his doctoral supervisor, Eduard Pflüger. A year later he became a Privatdozent at the University of Bonn and the following year an Honorary Lecturer in Physiology at the Royal Agricultural Academy in Poppelsdorf. In 1874, he received the associate professorship of physiology at the University of Bonn and began to build up the animal physiology laboratory. In particular, his animal physiological work paved the way for the development of physiology. He is also considered a pioneer of high-altitude physiology and a co-founder of aviation medicine.
In the 1960s, Zuntz and the Institute of Physiology came together again, as the Zuntz family villa in Argelanderstraße was made available to the Institute for its research and teaching activities.

Eduard Pflüger was succeeded in 1910 by Max Verworn, who is considered the founder of general cell physiology. He followed a call to Berlin in 1923 and the vacant chair of physiology was filled by Ulrich Ebbecke in 1924. He headed the institute for almost 30 years until 1953, followed by Kurt Wachholder (1954), Josef Pichotka (1962) and Jürgen Grote (1981). Under Pichotka, a second chair of physiology was established at the University of Bonn in 1972, to which Hans Georg Haas was appointed. He headed the Institute of Physiology II, which was initially housed in premises in Wilhelmstraße before also moving into the building complex in Nussallee.
With the appointment of Hans Georg Haas to the second chair, the research focus of physiology was expanded to include the aspect of cellular electrophysiology of the heart. Today, the Institute of Physiology II is particularly concerned with neurophysiological issues.

© Uni Bonn

1 Becker, T; Rosin, P.: Die Natur- und Lebenswissenschaften: Geschichte der Universität Bonn, Bd. 4, S. 12.

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