Ernst Abbe

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Abbe, Ernst

(ĕrnst ä`bə), 1840–1905, German physicist. He was appointed professor at the Univ. of Jena in 1870 and director of its astronomical and meteorological observatories in 1878. From 1866 he was associated with the Carl-Zeiss optical works at Jena, of which he became sole owner in 1888. He subsequently reorganized the firm on a cooperative basis. He made his plant a laboratory for the development of model working conditions, created a noncontributory pension fund and a discharge compensation fund, and introduced other advanced ideas that have been influential in shaping thought on the conditions of labor. He invented the Abbe refractometer for determining the refractive index of substances and improved photographic and microscopic lenses.
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Abbe, Ernst


Born Jan. 23, 1840; died Jan. 14, 1905. German physicist and specialist in optics; author of the theory of image formation in microscopes; creator of the technology of important branches of the optical mechanics industry.

From 1870, Abbe was professor of theoretical physics in Jena, and from 1877 to 1890, director of the Jena observatory. In 1863, while docent at the University of Jena, he took part in projects at the optical workshops of K. Zeiss and sought to elucidate the scientific principles of microscope construction. His theory of the microscope (1872) was the first scientific solution of this problem. Abbe invented many optical instruments that bear his name and are still used in the optical mechanics industry. From 1888, after the death of Zeiss, Abbe became the virtual owner of the Zeiss workshops, but he renounced his rights of ownership and drew up a special charter according to which the enterprise was to be managed by a board consisting of representatives of the workers, the state, and the university.


Gesammelte Abhandlungen, vols. 1–5. Jena, 1904–40.


Depman, I. Ia. “Ernst Abbe (1840–1905).” Priroda, 1940, no. 1.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.