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Magnus Gustav Retzius

Born 1842
Died 1919

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Swedish anatomist and anthropologist, born October 17, 1842, Stockholm; died July 21, 1919, Stockholm.

Biography of Magnus Gustav Retzius

Magnus Gustaf Retzius was the son of the famous anatomist Anders Adolf Retzius (1796-1860) and the grandson of the naturalist and chemist Anders Johan Retzius (1742-1821).

Retzius enrolled at the Uppsala University in 1860 and received his medicine kandidat degree there in 1866. He transferred to the Karolinska Institutet where he became medicine licentiat in 1869 and completed his doctorate in medicine in 1871 at the University of Lund.

In 1877 he received an extraordinary professorship in histology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, and in 1889 he was appointed to the chair of anatomy. However, he resigned his position already in 1890 after conflicts with other members of the institute. From then on he concentrated his efforts in scientific work – his wealthy marriage actually allowed him to pursue his research and writing without employment.

Retzius anatomical and histological work concern in particular the sense organs of vertebrates and invertebrates.

In humans he studied the anatomy of the brain and the nervous system. His book Das Menschenhirn (The Human Brain) was perhaps the most important work on the anatomy of the brain written in the nineteenth century. He also gave important contributions to the anatomical description of the muscles of the eardrum, the bones orf the middle ear and the eustachian tube, and he conducted research on the human reproductive cells and the development of the foetus.

Retzius travelled much, both in Europe and America, in order to conduct anatomical and anthropological studies. He received severe prizes for his outstanding contributions, among them the Monthyon prize fom the Institute de France, shared with Ernst Axel henrik Key.

Retzius conducted a comprehensive study of old Swedish and Finnish skulle. He also translated the poems of Robert Burns into Swedish.

Gustaf Retzius published more than 300 scientific works in anatomy, embryology, eugenics, craniometry, zoology and botany.

He was also a journalist and the editor of the newspaper Aftonbladet (1884-87). Retzius was married to Anna Hierta, daughter of Aftonbladet's founder Lars Johan Hierta.

Gustaf Retzius was politically liberal and socially active. Together with his wife he founded the Hierta-Retzius foundation, which is now administered by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The foundation has two funds, one for the promotion of biological research and the other for supporting projects of an important scientific or social nature. In 1901 Gustaf Retzius became a member of the Swedish Academy.

He is particularly remembered for his studies of the histology of the sense organs and nervous system.

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