Written by Lucie Sreinova
Johann Evangelist Purkinje was a Czech doctor and physiologist, born at Libochovice Castle on 18th December 1787. He was one of the most famous scientists in the world of his time. During his lifetime, he became one of the founders of cytology and named the fluid substance of the cell – protoplasm. His most significant discovery is the Purkinje cells named after him, located in the cerebellum.
In 1804 Purkinje left for education to the Piarists but then quit the order and made a living as an educator in noble families. One of the employers aroused in him an interest in medicine. In 1818 he graduated from Charles University in Prague, where he received a degree in medicine. He applied for a professorship there but was not allowed to do so because of his patriotic views. Eventually, he worked at the University of Wrocław only through the intercession of several people (one of whom was his future father-in-law).
In 1827 he married Julia Rudolphi, with whom he had two daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, his wife and daughters died of cholera in Wrocław, leaving Purkinje alone with his sons. His son Emanuel becomes a naturalist, and son Karel excelled as a painter. Purkinje supported Karel financially all his life. Unfortunately, Purkinje outlived Karel.
Purkinje’s scientific career was very successful. In Wrocław, he obtained a powerful microscope, which allowed him to make his tremendous discoveries. These include Purkinje fibers in the heart, Purkinje cells in the cerebellum, Purkinje images, Purkinje shift, and many others.
In 1850 he returned to the Prague Medical Faculty, where he remained until his death. After he established the Institute of Physiology, he could not devote so much time to research because the management of this institute took up a lot of his time. In 1853 he founded the journal Ziva, focusing on the popularization of science. It was published continuously for 100 years.
For his merits in the field of science, Emperor Franz Joseph I. awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Leopold. A year later, Purkinje applies for a knighthood granted to him.
Purkinje’s legacy is extensive in the Czech Republic. His name bears the gymnasium in Straznice and the university in Usti nad Labem. In 1826 the Purkinje Institute was opened as a part of the 1st Faculty of Medicine of Charles University. From 1960 to 1980, his name also bore University in Brno (now called Masaryk University). However, it is not only educational and scientific institutions that bear his name. A crater on the moon or a minor planet 3701 Purkinje is also named after him.
Johann Evangelist Purkinje died on 28th July 1869 at the age of 81. He is buried in the Vysehrad cemetery in Prague. His life commemorates a memorial plaque on Narodni trida.