Ferdinand Zirkel

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Ferdinand Zirkel

Ferdinand Zirkel (born May 20, 1838 in Bonn ; † June 11, 1912 there ) was a German geologist .


Zirkel received his doctorate from the University of Bonn in 1861 . In 1862 he went to Vienna , where he worked at the Imperial Geological Institute and in the Court Minerals Cabinet . He was Professor of Geology at the Universities of Lemberg (1863) and Kiel (1868) and from 1870 Professor of Mineralogy and Geology at the University of Leipzig . In 1874 he was accepted into the Royal Saxon Society of Sciences . In 1882 he became a corresponding member of the Bavarian , 1886 of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and 1887 of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences .

In 1882 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina , in 1897 in the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Edinburgh as well as in 1903 in the National Academy of Sciences and in 1909 as a corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences . In 1898 he was awarded the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London . In 1899 he received the Cothenius Medal of the Leopoldina.

Ferdinand Zirkel (bronze medallion by Carl Seffner )

His sister, Antonia Francisca Zirkel (born January 11, 1842 in Bonn) was married to the geologist Hermann Vogelsang .

The dorsum circle on the earth's moon is named after him.

Scientific work

In his dissertation , written in Latin , Zirkel dealt with the geology of the island of Iceland , which he had toured in 1860 with the English zoologist William Preyer . The two travelers also published a travel report about this stay in German .

In 1861, Zirkel met the English scientist Henry Clifton Sorby , who made him familiar with the examination of rocks in thin sections under the microscope. Two years later, Zirkel published a scientific paper in which he presented his observations on thin sections of 29 different rocks. This work made the methods of rock investigation in thin sections known to a broader public for the first time and ensured the method's broad breakthrough in petrography, after earlier work with thin sections had received little response. Up to now, when describing rocks optically, one had to be content with observing them with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass on compact handpieces or rock powder. Here microscopic observation opened up completely new possibilities, in that the rock-forming minerals could be examined much better directly in their natural association than before.

Another reason for the success of this work, in addition to the wide variety of rocks examined (including numerous volcanic rocks from Zirkels Icelandic trip), is also the fact that Zirkel pointed out that the microscopic structures can provide information about the conditions under which the corresponding Had formed rock. At that time, questions of rock genesis were a topical issue in the geosciences, after Neptunist theses had previously been revived in the 1840s . The new method promised clarification and was used by both Zirkel and his brother-in-law Hermann Vogelsang for rock genetic studies over the next few years.

Strangely, Zirkel himself only recognized the potential of the method for the determination of the individual mineral phases in a thin section at a late stage; in particular, he initially missed the importance of using linearly polarized light for these purposes, although he already had a suitably equipped microscope available. He wrote, for example, “that the microscope promises very little help in identifying minerals: Labrador, oligoclase and orthoclase, augite and hornblende, minerals, whose detection is one of the most important tasks in petrography, can be found in most of them under the microscope Cases indistinguishable from each other ". In this area, the new method was therefore not developed further by him, but later by Karl Heinrich Rosenbusch .

The importance of his publication on thin sections can also be seen in the fact that it is associated with the fact that three years later, Zirkel received an appointment as an associate professor at the University of Lemberg (and later as a full professor at Kiel and Leipzig) without having previously given up to have completed his habilitation.

In addition to rock microscopy, Zirkel also dealt with the systematics of rocks: The first edition of his textbook on petrography from 1866 is seen in this context as the “high point and conclusion of macroscopic classifications”. This first edition was written without reference to microscopic rock studies; the relevant knowledge was incorporated into the second edition.


  • Textbook of petrography. 2 volumes, Marcus, Bonn 1866; New edition: BiblioBazaar, 2008, ISBN 978-0-559-74517-1 .
  • Elements of mineralogy. [Founded by Carl Friedrich Naumann; taken over by Zirkel from 1877]. Leipzig, Engelmann, 1877, 10th edition.
  • Geological sketch of the west coast of Scotland. (1871).
  • The transformation processes in the mineral kingdom: academic speech, given on December 19, 1870 in the auditorium in Leipzig . Lüderitz, Berlin 1871 ( digitized version ).
  • The microscopic nature of minerals and rocks. (1873).
  • The structure of the Variolite. (1875).
  • Microscopical Petrography. (In: Report of the US Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel, vol. Vi, 1876).
  • Limurite from the Vallée de Lesponne. (1879).
  • About the zircon. (1880).

Web links

Wikisource: Ferdinand Zirkel  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Members of the SAW: Ferdinand Zirkel. Saxon Academy of Sciences, accessed December 15, 2016 .
  2. Member entry by Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Zirkel (with picture) at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences , accessed on February 6, 2016.
  3. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 268.
  4. ^ Member entry by Ferdinand Zirkel at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on February 6, 2016.
  5. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 27, 2020 .
  6. ^ List of former members since 1666: Letter Z. Académie des sciences, accessed on March 17, 2020 (French).
  7. ^ F. Zirkel: De Geognostica Islandiae Costitutione Observationes . Neusser, Bonn 1861.
  8. ^ W. Preyer, F. Zirkel: Journey to Iceland in the summer of 1860 . Brockhaus, Leipzig 1862.
  9. F. Zirkel: Microscopic rock studies . In: Meeting reports of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, mathematical and natural science classes . tape 47 . Vienna 1863, p. 225-270 .
  10. HV Phillipsborn: The historical development of the microscopic method in mineralogy and its significance for general microscopy and for technology . In: H. Freund (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Mikoskopie in der Technik . 1st edition. tape IV / 1 . Umschau, Frankfurt 1955, p. 1-50 .
  11. Circle: Microscopic Rock Studies . S. 227 .
  12. ^ R. Mosebach: Ferdinand Zirkel . In: H. Freund, A. Berg (Ed.): History of microscopy . tape III . Umschau, Frankfurt 1966, p. 515-524 .
  13. ^ F. Ronner: Systematic Classification of Mass Rocks . Springer, Vienna 1963, p. 181 .