Sunday, February 10, 2013

Victor Hensen

Christian Andreas Victor Hensen was born on February 10, 1835 in Schleswig, which is now part of Germany. His father Hans Hensen was the director of a school for the deaf in Schleswig and his mother, Henriette, was the daughter of the court physician. Hensen graduated from the cathedral school in Schleswig in 1845 and the grammar school at Glukstat, in Holstein in 1854. He studied medicine at the universities of Wurzburg, Berlin, and Kiel, passing his final examination in 1858. In 1859 he completed his thesis on epilepsy and urinary secretions. After finishing his doctorate he worked as a prosector at the University of Kiel. He was appointed professor of physiology in 1871 and he remained there until 1911. In 1867 he became a member of the Prussian House of Representatives. From 1878 he was the director of the institute of physiology at Kiel. In addition to his work on physiology, Henesen was also an oceanographer and lead many oceanographic expeditions.

Hensen's work was involved with many fields of science including physiology, oceanography, and chemistry. His physiological work included describing the structures of the inner ear. These studies led to the discovery of the Hensen duct, Hensen cells and Hensen stripe. These structures and cells are part of the cochlea, the snail shell shaped structure in the inner ear that is responsible for sensing sound waves. Hensen was also able to extract glycogen from the liver and there was a priority dispute about this between him and Claude Bernard. Now it is known that Hensen verified Bernard's work.

Hensen is most remembered for his coining of the word plankton to describe the microscopic sea organisms that form the basis of the ocean's food chain. These organisms include drifting animals, plants, archea, algae, and bacteria. The term plankton describes an ecological niche rather than a specific type of organism. Because they depend on sunlight they are found in greater numbers on the surface of bodies of water. They are found in oceans and lakes and are an important food source for fish and whales. Hensen developed methods of collecting and studying plankton that are still used today.

Hensen died on April 5, 1924.


Press and Communication Services, University of Kiel; "Famous Scholars from Kiel: Victor Hensen"; Retrieved from

Raica, M.; "A Short Story of Victor Hensen and a Cell of the Inner Ear"; Romanian Journal of Morphology and Embryology (2012)53:855-857

Victor Hensen Wikipedia Entry

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