I need to find out the name of a nineteenth century biologist who compared developmental biology to crystallography. His idea was that crystals are formed from 'cells' (defined molecular units) that bond together to form arrays. In living organisms cells are bound together but the rules that form the structures change as the organism grows, especially in animals, which is why we have different organs. In both cases you have units that coalesce undirected but according to rules to form structures. I remember finding out about this biologist from a documentary which also showed illustrations from the book he wrote on the subject. I can't find his name or that of his book using a web search because it's too obscure and that would only work with the correct terms. Does anyone know anything about this?


1 Answer 1


The idea to compare biologic cells and crystal is mostly related to a German physiologist Theodor Schwann (1810-1882):

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His work "Microscopic researches on the Conformity in Structure and Growth Between Animals and Plants, 1839 relates to this idea.

He believed that new cells form principally outside pre-existing cells, and wanted to draw an analogy to crystal formation.

another source:

The cell is the unit of structure, physiology, and organization in living things. The cell retains a dual existence as a distinct entity and a building block in the construction of organisms. Cells form by free-cell formation, similar to the formation of crystals (spontaneous generation).

(other related scientists are Schleiden, Virchow, Muller).

  • $\begingroup$ I think that's him, his main book was Microscopical Researches on the Similarity in the Structure and the Growth of Animals and Plants. But the analogy with crystals breaks down when it comes to their origin - cells don't spontaneously generate, which he helped to prove. $\endgroup$
    – user16713
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 8:48

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