Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and the Ehrenberg Collection
Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg (1795 - 1876) was one of the most famous and productive scientists of his day. Born inDelitzsch, near Leipzig, he studied natural sciences in Berlin, and became a friend of the famous scientist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. At Humboldt's recommendation, Ehrenberg traveled on a multiyear scientific expedition to themid-east, where he collected thousands of specimens of plants and animals, many of which are still stored in the MfN inthe Institute for Zoology.
After returning from this expedition, Ehrenberg began to concentrate his studies on microscopic organisms, which untilthen had not been systematically studied by science. In a period of nearly 30 years Ehrenberg examined samples of water, soil, sediment, rock - virtually whatever material might contain living or fossil microscopic organisms - and described thousands of new species, and hundreds of new genera, for science in nearly 400 scientific publications. Most of his publications appeared in the Monatsbericht and Abhandlungen of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and can be read online at: bibliothek.bbaw.de/bibliothek-digital/digitalequellen/schriften. As the result of this enormous work, Ehrenberg laid the foundation stone for today's field of Micropaleontology. Most of Ehrenberg's studies were of a unicellular group of protists called diatoms, although he also studied, and named, many species of other protists, particularly radiolarians as well. Ehrenberg was in his day world famous (at least among other scientists) and was often sent materials from around the world for his opinion. The Collection is thus of global scope, and includes material from all continents. Collectors range from famous scientists like Darwin to amateur naturalists such as Assistant Surgeon J.C. Madison, who provided 12 samples from Fort Washita, Cherokee Nation (now Oklahoma).
On Ehrenberg's death in 1876, his collections of microscopic organisms were deposited in the Museum für Naturkunde.
The Ehrenberg Collection consists of several parts, including approximately 40,000 microscope preparations, 5,000 raw samples, 3,000 pencil and ink drawings , nearly 1,000 letters of correspondence, as well as index books and other documentation. Because of the Collection's great age and taxonomic importance, it has been extensively re-curated in the last few years, in part with the support of the German government`s ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Information about the Collection is accessible both via the online Ehrenberg Collection Database, and by an ftp site download.naturkundemuseum-berlin.de/Ehrenberg where users can download original drawings, his daughter Clara`s handwritten collection catalogs and copies of his two great monographs: Infusionsthierchen (1838) and Mikrogeologie (1854).
Results of taxonomic research on the Collection are widely published in the literature. Recent descriptions of algal types from the Collection can be found at www.algaterra.org ; radiolarian types at www.radiolaria.org .
Lazarus, D.B., 1998. The Ehrenberg Collection and its curation. In: D.M. Williams and R. Huxley (Editors), Christian Gottfried Ehrenburg (sic) (1795-1876): The man and his legacy. The Linnean Society, pp. 31-48.
Lazarus, D.B. and Jahn, R., 1998. Using the Ehrenberg Collection. Diatom Research, 13(2): 273-291.