Hensen was born in the town of Schleswig. He studied medicine at the universities of Würzburg, Berlin (studying under Müller) and Kiel. In 1859, he received his doctorate in Kiel for a thesis on epilepsy and urinary secretions.
In 1867, he became a member of the Prussian House of Representatives to push towards studies of the ocean. Upon his initiative, the Royal Prussian Commission for the Exploration of the Oceans was founded.
Hensen also worked in embryology and anatomy. He discovered a structure in the ear, the Hensen duct (or Canal of Henson; also Hensen's cells, Hensen's stripe), and a structure essential for the development of birds, the Hensen's node and Hensen's line
The RV VICTOR HENSEN is a research vessel named in his honor.
- Zur Morphologie der Schnecke des Menschen und der Säugethiere (1863)
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- Some text by Hensen (in German and English)
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- The vessel Victor Hensen (in German)
- Correspondence between Darwin and Hensen
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