ESCRS - Eponymous ophthalmologists
ESCRS - Eponymous ophthalmologists

Eponymous ophthalmologists: EuroTimes looks at the stories behind the names

Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727–1759)

Eponymous ophthalmologists: EuroTimes looks at the stories behind the names

In his brief life, German anatomist and botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn made significant contributions to the anatomical study of the eye. His most well-known work, Descriptio anatomica oculi humani, “gave the first detailed and comprehensive description of the anatomy of the human eye”.i

Zinn was born in the village of Schwabach, the son of a counsellor of the regional royal treasury in Ansbach, Bavaria. He attended the medical school of the newly established University of Göttingen under the mentorship of the famous professor of anatomy, physiology, and botany, Albrecht von Haller (1708–1777), and obtained his doctorate in 1749. He left Haller and Göttingen for Berlin. Here he had access to extensive tools and materials with which to pursue his ophthalmological research.

Zinn returned to Göttingen in 1753 to accept a position as extraordinary professor of medicine and director of the town’s botanical gardens.ii He was one of the first to render an accurate description of the eyeball, and he investigated the vessels and nerves of the eye cavity.
His most important publication was his Descriptio anatomica oculi humani, a fundamental work in the history of ophthalmology. This work provides the first description of many ocular structures that bear his name—including the zonule of Zinn, Zinn-Haller’s arterial circle, and the annular tendon of Zinn, which serves as attachment for all the extraocular muscles of the eye and the optic nerve passes through the centre of the ring.

In his capacity as director of the botanical gardens, he composed his Catalogus Plantarum Horti Academici Et Agri Gottingensis, in which he provided a comprehensive description of the plants in the university’s collection. During this time, he also published the first botanical illustration of flowers grown from seeds he received in an envelope from the German Ambassador to Mexico—describing the plant blossoms in detail. He shared the seeds with other botanists throughout Europe. Carolus Linnæus, who corresponded with Zinn, named the genus of the flower Zinnia in his honour.

The broad scope of his work and the lasting impression he made are even more amazing considering the brevity of his life. He died of tuberculosis in 1759 at the age of 31.

Sources: H Mark, Arch Ophthalmol 2009; 127: 1215–1217.

i Streng, B et al. “Johann Gottfried Zinn—ein fränkischer Anatom und Botaniker” [Johann Gottfried Zinn—a Franconian anatomist and botanist]. Klinische Monatsblatter fur Augenheilkunde, 1991; 199(1): 57–61.doi:10.1055/s-2008-1046048.

ii “Johann Gottfried Zinn.” 

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