Franciscus Donders

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Franciscus Cornelis Donders
Donders, Franciscus Cornelis (1818 - 1889).jpg
Franciscus Cornelis Donders
Born 27 May 1818
Died 24 March 1889 (1889-03-25) (aged 70)
Nationality Dutch
Fields ophthalmology
Institutions Utrecht University
Known for eye diseases

Franciscus (Franz) Cornelius Donders FRS FRSE (27 May 1818, in Tilburg – 24 March 1889, in Utrecht) was a Dutch ophthalmologist. During his career, he was a professor of physiology in Utrecht, and was internationally regarded as an authority on eye diseases, directing the Netherlands Hospital for Eye Patients. Along with Graefe and Helmholtz, he was one of the primary founders of scientific ophthalmology.


He was born in Tilburg in the Netherlands the son of Jan Franz Donders and Agnes Elizabeth Hegh. He was educated at Duizel School and seminaries in both Tilburg and Boxmeer.[1]

For several years, the young Donders studied at the Royal Dutch Hospital for Military Medicine in Utrecht, then earning his M.D. in 1840 from the University of Leiden. Following a stint as a medical officer in the Hague, in 1842 he was appointed as a lecturer in physiology and anatomy at the Utrecht military medical school. In 1847, he became an associate professor at Utrecht University and, in 1862, attained a full professorship in physiology.[2] In 1847, he became correspondent of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands, when that became the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 1851, he joined as member.[3]

He is known for his work and research of eye disease and was among the first practitioners of the ophthalmoscope.[4] He is credited with invention of an impression tonometer (1862),[5] and for introduction of prismatic and cylindrical lenses for treatment of astigmatism (1860).[6]

Donders also was the first to use differences in human reaction time to infer differences in cognitive processing. He tested both simple reaction time and choice reaction time, finding that simple reaction was faster.[7] This concept is now one of the central tenets of cognitive psychology – while mental chronometry is not a topic in itself, it is one of the most common tools used for making inferences about processes such as learning, memory, and attention.

Donders founded the Nederlands Gasthuis voor Behoeftige en Minvermogende Ooglijders (in short: Ooglijdersgasthuis) – the Netherlands Hospital for Necessitous Eye-Patients in 1858. His first associate was Herman Snellen.[8] In 1864, he published the highly acclaimed "On the anomalies of accommodation and refraction of the eye".[9]

His name is associated with "Donders' law", which states that "the rotation of the eyeball is determined by the distance of the object from the median plane and the line of the horizon".[10] He is also well recognized in the dental community for naming the "space of Donders", the space between the dorsum of the tongue and the hard palate when the mandible is at rest.[11]

He died in Utrecht on 24 March 1889.


He married twice: first in 1845 to Ernestine Zimmerman (d.1887); secondly, in 1888 to Abrahamine Arnolda Louisa Hubrecht.[12]


  1. ^ BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  2. ^ Picture, biography, bibliography and digitized sources in the Virtual Laboratory of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
  3. ^ "Franciscus Cornelis Donders (1818 - 1889)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  4. ^ Gijn J van; Gijselhart JP (2011). "[Franciscus Donders (1818-1889): ophthalmologist and physiologist]". Nederlands Tijdschrift Voor Geneeskunde (in Dutch and Flemish). 155: A1979. PMID 21291574. 
  5. ^ Instruments of science: an historical encyclopedia edited by Robert Bud, Deborah Jean Warner
  6. ^ Google Books An Introduction to the history of medicine by Fielding Hudson Garrison
  7. ^ Goldstein, E. B. Cognitive psychology, connecting mind, research, and everyday experience. Wadsworth Pub Co, 2010. Print.
  8. ^ den Tonkelaar e.a. 1996, p. 13
  9. ^ Google Books On the anomalies of accommodation and refraction of the eye
  10. ^ Donders' law Mondofacto
  11. ^ Stedman's Medical Eponyms by Thomas Lathrop Stedman
  12. ^ BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  • Newell, F W (Jun 1989), "Franciscus Cornelis Donders (1818-1889).", American journal of ophthalmology (published Jun 15, 1989), 107 (6): 691–3, ISSN 0002-9394, PMID 2658623 
  • Duke-Elder, S (Feb 1959), "FRANCISCUS CORNELIS DONDERS", The British journal of ophthalmology, 43 (2), pp. 65–8, doi:10.1136/bjo.43.2.65, PMC 509756free to read, PMID 13628947 
  • ten DOESSCHATE, G (1951), "[The latest works of Franciscus Cornelis Donders.]", Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde (published Apr 7, 1951), 95 (14), pp. 1096–7, PMID 14843224 
  • TEN DOESSCHATE, G (1951), "[The personality of Franciscus Cornelis Donders.]", Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde (published Nov 17, 1951), 95 (46), pp. 3421–41, PMID 14919660 
  • den Tonkelaar, Isolde, Harold E. Henkes and Gijsbert K. van Leersum (1996) - Eye and instruments : Nineteenth-century ophthalmological instruments in the Netherlands. Amsterdam : Batavian Lion. ISBN 90 6707 400 4. 304 pgs.

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