Ernst Abbe and His Contributions to Optics

  • Barry R. MastersEmail author
Part of the Springer Series in Optical Sciences book series (SSOS, volume 227)


In this chapter I suggest connections between the early life, education, and work experience of Ernst Abbe as well as his seminal contributions to optical metrology and his role as a social reformer. While several sources discuss what Abbe contributed during his career, I suggest links to help answer the question of what prompted him to do so? First, I posit that Abbe’s difficult and financially unstable early life led to his penchant to work as a social reformer at Zeiss Werke and at the University of Jena.


  1. Abbe, E. (1863). Ueber die Gesetzmässigkeit in der Vertheilung der Fehler bei Beobactungsreihen. [Concerning the regularity in the distribution of errors in observation series]. Dissertation for attainment of the Venia Docendi in the philosophy faculty in Jena in 1863. In: Gesammelte Abhandlungen, II. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, pp. 55–81.Google Scholar
  2. Abbe, E. (1873). Ueber einen neuen Beleuchtungsapparat am Mikroskop. Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie, IX, 469–480.Google Scholar
  3. Abbe, E. (1875). V. A new illuminating apparatus for the microscope. Monthly Microscopical Journal, XIII, 77–82.Google Scholar
  4. Abbe, E. (1879). On Stephenson’s system of homogeneous immersion for microscope objectives. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, 2, 256–265.Google Scholar
  5. Abbe, E. (1880). The essence of homogeneous immersion. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, 1, 526.Google Scholar
  6. Abbe, E. (1881). On the estimation of aperture in the microscope. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, 1, 388–423.Google Scholar
  7. Abbe, E. (1989). Gesammelte Abhandlungen, I-IV. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.Google Scholar
  8. Abbe, E. (1906). Messapparate [Dickenmesser, Comparator, Sphärometer] für Physiker. XI, In: Abbe, E. (1906). Gesammelte Abhandlungen, II. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, pp. 206–214.Google Scholar
  9. Auerbach, F. (1918). Ernst Abbe: sein Leben, sein Wirken, seine Persönlichkeit nach den Quellen und aus eigener Erfahrung geschildert von Felix Auerbach. Leipzig: Akademie Verlag Gesellschaft.Google Scholar
  10. Auerbach, F. (1922). Ernst Abbe: sein Leben, sein Wirken, seine Persönlichkeit nach Quellen und aus eigener Erfahrung geschildert von Felix Auerbach. Zweite Auflage. Leipzig: Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  11. Born, M., and Wolf, E. (1999). Principles of Optics, 7th (expanded) edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cahan D. (1996). The Zeiss Werke and the ultramicroscope: the creation of a scientific instrument in context. In: Buchwald, J. Z., editor, Scientific Credibility and Technical Standards in 19th and early 20th Century Germany and Britain, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 67–115.Google Scholar
  13. Czapski, S. (1906). Geometrische Optik. In: A. Winkelmann, Ed. Handbuch der Physik, Zweite Auflage, Sechster Band, Optik. Leipzig: Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth.Google Scholar
  14. Czapski, S., and Eppenstein, O. (1924). Grundzüge der Theorie der optischen Instrumente nach Abbe. Dritte Auflage. Leipzig: J. A. Barth Verlag.Google Scholar
  15. Dippel, L. (1882). Das Mikroskop und seine Anwendung. Erster Theil. Handbuch der Allegemeiner Mikroskopie, Zweite Auflage. Braunschweig: Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn.Google Scholar
  16. Feffer, S. M. (1994). Microscopes to munitions: Ernst Abbe, Carl Zeiss, and the transformation of technical optics, 1850–1914. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1994. Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Services.Google Scholar
  17. Gerth, K. (2005). Ernst Abbe, Scientist, Entrepreneur, Social Reformer. Jena: Verlag Dr. Buseert & Stadeler.Google Scholar
  18. Gross, H. (2005). Aberrations: The sine condition. In: Handbook of Optical Systems, Vol. 1: Fundamentals of Technical Optics (p. 495). Weinheim, FRG: Wiley-VCH.Google Scholar
  19. Hartinger, H. (1930). Zum fünfundzwanzigsten Todestage von Ernst Abbe. Die Naturwissenschaften, 18, 49–63.Google Scholar
  20. Helmholtz, H. (1874). Die theoretische Grenze für die Leistungsfähigkeit der Mikroskope. Poggendorff’s Annalen der Physik, Jubelband 1874, 557–584, Leipzig. Translated as: “On the theoretical limits of the optical capacity of the microscope.” Monthly Microscopical Journal, 16, 15–39 (1876).Google Scholar
  21. Kingslake, R., and Johnson, R. B. (2010). Lens Design Fundamentals. Second Edition, New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lummer and Reiche (1910). Die Lehre von der Bildentstehung im Mikroskop von Ernst Abbe. Braunschweig: Druck und Verlag con Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn.Google Scholar
  23. Mansuripur, M. (2009). Chapter 1, Abbe’s sine condition, in: Classical Optics and its Applications. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 9–22.Google Scholar
  24. Masters, B. R. (2007). Ernst Abbe and the foundation of scientific microscopes. Optics & Photonics News, February, 19–23.Google Scholar
  25. Nägeli and Schwendener (1877). Das Mikroskop. Leipzig: Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann.Google Scholar
  26. Pedrotti, F. L., Pedrotti, L. M., and L. S. Pedrotti (2018). Introduction to Optics, Third Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Rheinberg, J. (1905). Obituary. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, 25, 156–163.Google Scholar
  28. Sasián, J. (2013). Introduction to Aberrations in Optical Imaging Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Simon, J. M., Ratto, J. O., and Comastri, S. A. (1979). Sine condition derivation via Fourier optics. Applied Optics, 18, 2912–2913.Google Scholar
  30. Volkmann, H. (1966). Ernst Abbe and his work. Applied Optics, 5, 1720–1731.Google Scholar
  31. von Rohr, M. (1940). Ernst Abbe. Jena: Gustav Fischer.Google Scholar
  32. Zeiss, C. (1878). Description of Professor Abbe’s apertometer, with instructions for its use. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, I, 19–22.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Abbe, E. (1879). On new methods for improving spherical correction, applied to the construction of wide-angled object-glasses [microscope objectives]. Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society, II, 812–824.Google Scholar
  2. Abbe, E. (1893). Apparat zur Bestimmung der Brennweite von Linsensysten (Fokometer). In: Abbe, E. (1906) Gesammelte Abhandlungen, XIII. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, pp. 215–218.Google Scholar
  3. Hopkins, H. H. (1950). Wave theory of Aberrations. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Masters, B. R. (2006). Confocal Microscopy and Multiphoton Excitation Microscopy: The Genesis of Live Cell Imaging. Bellingham: SPIE Press.Google Scholar
  5. Masters, B. R. (2009). C. V. Raman and the Raman effect. Optics & Photonics News, March 20, 40–45.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Previously, Visiting Scientist Department of Biological EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Previously, Visiting Scholar Department of the History of ScienceHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations