K. E. von Baer: 7 Visual Clues to His Impact

Unless you are a medical or natural sciences student, your knowledge of Karl Ernst von Baer (1792–1876) might be vague or limited. For those who have seen and remember Estonia’s own currency, Baer is the face on the 2-kroon banknote.

Some may also know that on Walpurgis Night, Tartu students wash the head of Karl Maksimovich Baer’s (that’s how he was known in Russia) monument on Toome Hill with champagne. The tradition comes from medical students, as Baer studied medicine at the Imperial University of Dorpat (Tartu) in 1810-1814. Later this Baltic-German scientist was prolific in many fields.

Today, on the 220th anniversary of Baer’s birth, let us dedicate a few minutes to this great personality and do this in spite of the fact that Baer complained about the quality of his education in Tartu.

We’ll be building upon our visual memory – below are 7 visual clues to the impact that Karl Maksimovich had on the development of science globally.

1. The mammalian ovum

human ovum

In 1826 Baer discovered the mammalian ovum, and is considered to be the founding father of embryology. He also formulated what would later be called Baer's laws of embryology. In the photo: the human ovum (Wikimedia Commons).

2. Baer’s law in geology

River bank erosion

Baer’s law in geology refers to the proposition that in the northern hemisphere, erosion occurs mostly on the right banks of rivers, and in the southern hemisphere on the left banks. Photo: Nigel Chadwick / Wikimedia Commons.

3. The explorer

Peipsi Beach in Rannapungerja

Baer was an explorer who was interested in biology, and is among the founders of ecology. His expeditions led him to the northern part of Russia, the Caspian Sea, the North Cape, and Lapland. In Estonia, Baer researched the dynamics of fish stock in Lake Peipus (in the photo). Image credit: Maasaak / Wikimedia Commons.

4. Baer Island

Kara Sea map

Baer Island in the Kara Sea was named after Baer for his important contributions to the research of Arctic meteorology. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

5. Permafrost

Chunk of permafrost

Baer is the author of the first ever study of permafrost. Although Baer’s manuscript remained unpublished, it greatly influenced the work of Baer’s famous student in the field, Alexander Theodor von Middendorff. In the photo by Nick Bonzey: a chunk of permafrost. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

6. Face on a banknote

2 kroons

Remember this? Karl Ernst von Baer on the Estonian 2-kroon banknote.

7. Champagne wash

Baer head wash

Whose head is being washed with champagne on Walpurgis Night? The answer: Baer’s. The tradition was born in the Soviet period when medical students undertook to wash Baer’s hair on their graduation day. Photo by Andres Tennus.

Want to see Baer’s massive writing desk or learn more about his life and work? Why don’t you go visit Baer’s House in Tartu?

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