Kūtzing, Friedrich Traugott

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Kūtzing, Friedrich Traugott

(b. Ritteburg, near Artern, Saxony, Germany, 8 December 1807; d. Nordhausen, Germany, 9 September 1893)


Kützing was the eight of the fourteen children of Johann Daniel Christoph Kützing, a miller, and the former Magdalene Zopf. He attended the village school of Ritteburg nd from 1822 to 1832 served as appentice and later as assistant to apothecaries in Artern, Aschersleben, Magdeburg, Schleusingen, and Tennstedt. During this period he studied chemistry and botany as well as pharmacology. He started a herbarium while at Aschersleben and began to study algae while at Schleusingen (1830–1831). At this time Kützing decided to pursue a career in pure science rather than in pharmacy and began to study subjects, such as Latin and Greek, that would qualify him for admission to a university. At Schleusingen he also started to prepare specimens for his Algarum aquae dulcis Germanicarum, which was issued in sixteen decades between 1833 he attended the University of Halle, where the professor of pharmacology had given him an assistantship. Well-known biologists who were professors at Halle during that period were the zoologist Christian Ludwig Nitzsch, the botanist Kurt Sprengel, and the latter’s successor, Dietrich Franz Leonhard von Schlechtendal. Kützing, who had been studying diatoms for about two years, was encouraged by Nitzsch, a diatomist, to continue investigating this then little-known group. A monograph resulted in 1833 in which Kützing pointed out the differentces between diatoms and desmids, groups hitherto allied.

In the autumn of 1833 Kützing became an apothecary’s helper in Eilenburg, where he remained through 1834. During this period he made the significant discovery that the walls of diatoms are silicified. He asked Alexander von Humboldt in Berlin to communicate his discovery to the Royal Prussian Academy and sent a manuscript to Poggendorff for publication in Annalen der Physik und Chemie. Although the paper never appeared (See Die Kieselschaligen Bacillarien oder Diatomeen, pages 7–10), in 1835 Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg referred to this discovery.

The Royal PrussianAcademy made special award to Kötzing, a grant of 200 talers to help him make a study trip to the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas. The journey, financed in part by the sale of his Algarum decades, lasted fro February to September 1835. In Vienna, where he met Endlicher, Diesing, and many other distinguished scientists, he demonstrated the siliceous nature of the diatom frustule.

In October 1835, Kützilng was appointed teacher of chemistry and natural history (later he also taught geography) in the secondary school of Nordhausen, where he spent the remainder of his life, retiring in 1883. In October 1837 he married Mria Elisabeth Brrose of Aschersleben; they had six children. In November 1837 he received the Ph.D. from the University of Marburg.

In the summer of 1839 Kützing mae a study trip to the North Sea. In Hamburg he visited the senator Nicolaus Binder and the apothecary Otto Wilhelm Sonder, both of whom owned large, worldwide collections of seaweed that were subsequently made available to Kützing for study.

In 1843 Kützing’s first great algal work, Phycologia generalis, appeared. the 200 talers Kützing had received from the Royal Prussian Acdemy to help publish this work covered only a twelfth of the cost of the eighty plates, so Kützing decided to learn the art of engraving. The excellent results of his work and the knowledge that henceforth he would not be dependent upon favors from the Academy gave Kützing great satisfaction. As he remarked in his autobiography (p. 241), he was a “self-made man” and had practiced “help yourself” since the days of his youth. Especial attention was paid in this work to the physiology, anatomy, and development of representatives of all algal groups, as then recognized, except the diatoms, which formed the subject of a separate monograph that appeared in 1844. In the Phycologia generalis Kützing named the red and blue algal pigments phycoerythrin and phycocyanin, and phycocyanin, respectively, and also announced the discovery of starch grranules (Floridian starch), the storage product in red algae. In recognition of the importance of his forthcoming Phycologia, in 1842 Kützing was made a royal professor.

Other major works by Kützing were Die kieselschaligen Bacillarien oder Diatomeen (1844), Phycologia germanica (1845–1871). The Bacillarien, which contained illustrations of 700 species, engraved by Kützing himself, received worldwide recognition. According to Kützing, this book made more friends for his that any of his other (it was reprinted in 1865). In the 1845 work Kützing proposed the class name Chlorophyceae, by which the green algae are now known. In the Species algarum diagnoses were given of more than 6,000 species of algae from all parts of the world. In the Tabulae, each volume of which contains 100 plates engraved by Kützing himself, 4,407 species and forms, exclusive of diatoms adn desmids, were illustrated. Even today this work still continues to be the best reference on the habit of many species of algae.

In addition to his contributions to phycology, Kützing published articles and books on various other subjects, botanical and non botanical, including the discovery in 1837 that fermentation is a physiological process brought about by organisms; but his fame derives from his work on the algae. If it is remembered that Kützing never held a university professorship (his professional enemies prevented that) that would have allowed him some free time for research, and that he had to pursue his studied during his spare time from work in pharmacies or secondary school teaching his remarkable achievements become all the more a source of astonishment and admiration.

Kützing’s diatom collection is now in the British Mueum (Natural History) and the Natural History Museum of Antwerp; his algal collection is in the Rijksherbarium in Leiden.


Kützing’s bibliography is appended to his autobiography, Friedrich Traugott Kützing 1807–1893 Aufzeichu\nungen und Erinnerungen, R. H. Walther Müller und Rudolph Zaunick, eds. (Leipzig, 1960), with 2 portraits. His writings include Algarum aquae dulcis Germanicarum, 16 decades (Halle, 1833–1836); Phycologia generalis (Leipzig, 1843); Die kieselschaligen Bacillarien oder Diatomeen (Nordhausen, 1844); Phycologia Germanica (Nord-hausen, 1845); Tabulae phycologiae, 19 vols. and index (Nordhausen, 1845–1871); and Species algarum (Leipzig, 1849).

Obituaries ar W. Zopf, “Friedrich Traugott Kützing,” in Leopoldina, 30 (1894), 145–151; and the unsigned “Friedrich Traugott Kützing,” in Hedwigia, 32 (1893), 329–333.

George F. Papenfuss