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Alfred Donné

Born  1801
Died  1878

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French physician, born 1801, Noyon, département Oise; died March 7, 1878, Paris.

Biography of Alfred Donné

Alfred Donné studied medicine at the University of Paris. He graduated in 1829 and received his doctorate in 1831 with a thesis pointing to his future fields of microscopy and chemistry. He became chef de clinique at the Charité hopsital where he gave courses in microscopy, and for a period was a librarian to the medical faculty in Paris. He participated in several concourses for a position as professor agrégé. Before the revolution of 1848 he was highly recognised, becoming sous-inspecteur adjoint to the sources of Enghien and inspecteur général of medicine at the University of Paris. After the abolishment of this title he received the title of rector of the academy in Strasbourg, later the same title in Montpellier.

Alfred Donné was a prolific contributor to various medical journals. He was a collaborator to the Revue des deux mondes and the book of the Cent-et-Un, and for several years authored the reports of the proceedings of the Académie des sciences for the Journal des Débats, in which he was involved in a long polemic with François Arago (1786-1853).

In 1842, Alfred Donné noted the third cellular element in blood - the platelet - but mistook them for fat globules of chyle. He reported on the cell content of nasal secretion and colostrum, and in 1845 described Trichomonas vaginalis which he found in scrapings, initially believing that it caused gonorrhoea but later established that it was often found in the female genital tract.

In 19th century Paris, upper class families typically employed wet nurses to breast feed babies and nannies to care for children. In 1842 Donne published a manual for physicians and mothers on the science of child rearing which discouraged these practices, and instead recommended breast feeding by the natural mother to ensure safe milk, and develop important bonding between mother and child.

Smile to the camera!
Besides the discovery of the blood platelet, Donné is today remembered for his pioneering efforts in photography, best demonstrated through his seminal cytology atlas, Cours de Microscopie, made with Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1869). After the announcement of Daguerre's invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, the process was immediately tested in order to make the one-of-a-kind daguerreotype plate printable as a photo-mechanical reproduction. These early experiments were made public when Alfred Donné displayed his pale prints from etched daguerreotypes to the French Academy of Science in the same year. His process utilized the natural grain and acid resisting properties of the mercury amalgam to etch the silver plating from the open shadow areas on the surface of the plate. Joseph Barnes of Vienna made darker and richer images with a deeper etch by using solid silver plates instead and building up the highlights with varnish.

On October 14, 1839, Alfred Donne reported and showed the first Daguerreotype portrait in Europe. He was the first to announce success with etching daguerreotype plates. During this process, an ordinary daguerreotype plate was etched with nitric add, which attacked only the bare silver parts, resulting in a weak etched plate from which about forty prints could be taken. In the same year, Fox Talbot developed his negative/positive process, which produced images on paper. Fox-Talbot's method alone, however, was not accurate enough to illustrate so precise a work as a textbook of microscopy. Donné therefore combined the innovations of his peer with his own advances, and thus illustrated his treatise on microscopy with the first engravings after photomicrograph daguerreotypes. For this work he employed an engraver to copy the photomicrographs.

The microphotographical daguerrotypes were recorded by Alfred Donne and Léon Foucault in Paris in 1840.


  • Recherches physiologiques et chimico-microscopiques sur les globules du sang, du pus, du mucus, et sur ceux des humeurs de l’oeil. Doctoral thesis, 1831.
  • De la part que peut avoir l’inflammation dans le developpement des lésions dites organiques.
    Concours thesis for agrégé, 1832. (He didn’t make it).
  • Du rôle que jouent les sympathies et les synergies dans les maladies.
    Concours thesis for agrégé, 1835. (He still didn’t make it).
  • Recherches sur l'état du pouls, de la respiration et de la témperature du corps dans les maladies etc. 1835.
  • Histoire physiologique et pathologique de la salive etc. 1836.
  • Animalcules observés dans les matières purulentes at le produit des sécretions des organes génitaux de l'homme et de la femme.
    Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris, 1836, 3: 385-186.
    First description of Trichomonas vaginalis, which Donné at first believed to be the pernicious agent in gonorrhoea. He later admitted the organism to be a normal inhabitant of the female genital tract. Donné was, by this work, the first to describe living organisms in pathological conditions, as observed by modern methods.
    English translation in Benjamin Harrison Kean (1912-) et al: Tropical medicine and parasitology: classic investigations. 1 volume in two. Ithaca, London, Cornell University Press, 1978.
  • Recherches microscopiques sur la nature des mucus et de la matière des diver écoulemens des organes génito-urinaires chez l’homme et chez la femme; description des nouveaux animalcules decouverts dans quelques-unes de ces fluides; etc. 1837.
  • Du lait et en particulier de celui des nourrices, etc.
    1837. 2 German translations, Weimar 1838, and Heilbronn, Minden, 1838.
  • Mademoiselle Pigiaire somnambulisme; magnétimse animal.
    Noyon, 1838.
  • Tableau des différens dépôts de matières salines et de substances organisées qui se font dans les urines, etc. 1838.
  • Quelques lettres sur les eaux minérales. 1839.
  • Conseils aux mères sur l’allaitement et sur la manière d’éléver les enfans nouveau-nés, etc. 1842; 4th edition, 1869; English translation, Boston, 3rd edition 1860.
  • De l'origine des globules du sang, de leur mode de formation et de leur fin.
    Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris, 1842, 14: 366-168.
    Announces the discovery of the blood platelets.
  • Cours de microscopie complémentaire des études médicales, anatomie microscopique et physiologie des fluides de l'économie. 1 volume and atlas. Paris, J.-B. Baillière, 1844-1845.
    German translation by Eugen Frans von Gorup-Besanez (1817-1878): Microscopische Anatomie und Physiologie der thierischen Flüssigkeiten. Erlangen : F. Enke 1846
  • Atlas du cours de microscopie exécuté d’après nature au microscope daguerréotype avec M. Léon Foucault.
    With Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1869). 1845
    The atlas includes the first engravings from photomicrographs, in this case, daguerrotypes.
  • Ann F. La Berge:
    Mothers and Infants, Nurses and Nursing: Alfred Donne and the Medicalization of Child-Care in Nineteenth-Century France.
    Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, January 1991, 46: 20-43. Donné translated Macédoine Melloni’s Rapport sur le daguerréotype etc from Italian (1840).

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