Allvar Gullstrand Biography

Allvar Gullstrand, a renowned Swedish ophthalmologist and optician, made groundbreaking contributions to the field of ophthalmology. His research on the eye’s light-refracting technique earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1911, making him the only ophthalmologist to receive this honor. Gullstrand’s expertise in physical mathematics allowed him to study optical images and the refraction of light in the eye. He extensively studied the cornea’s structure and made significant advancements in understanding and correcting astigmatism. Additionally, Gullstrand’s research on improving the slit lamp instrument and focal illumination techniques greatly impacted practical ophthalmology. As a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, he served on the Nobel Physics Committee and played a role in preventing Albert Einstein from receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics for his Theory of Relativity, as Gullstrand doubted its accuracy.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Dr. Allvar Gullstrand
  • Died At Age: 68
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Signe Christina Breitholtz
    • Father: Dr. Pehr Alfred Gullstrand
    • Mother: Sofia Mathilda née Korsell
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Swedish Men
  • Died on: July 28, 1930
  • Place of death: Stockholm
  • More Facts
  • Education: Uppsala University
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1911

Childhood & Early Life

Gullstrand was born on June 5, 1862, in Landskrona, Sweden. His father, Dr. Pehr Alfred Gullstrand, was the principal municipal medical officer. He studied at schools in Landskrona and Jönköping and completed his matriculation in 1880. Gullstrand then enrolled at the oldest university in Sweden, Uppsala University, where he studied until 1885. He decided to move to Vienna to study otoscopy, ophthalmoscopy, and laryngoscopy for a year before returning to Stockholm to continue his medical studies. He graduated in 1888 and joined the ophthalmology clinic at Stockholm’s Seraphim Hospital as an assistant to Johan Widmark. In 1890, he earned his doctorate with a thesis on the theory of astigmatism.


In 1891, Gullstrand became a lecturer in Ophthalmology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. He also worked with the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare as a junior administrator, practiced privately, and worked in a public outpatient department. In 1894, he was appointed as the first chair and professor of ophthalmology at Uppsala University, where he had previously been a student. Gullstrand was a member of various international societies, including the German Ophthalmological Society in Heidelberg. He received the Graefe Medal from the society in 1927. Throughout his career, Gullstrand made significant contributions to the field of ophthalmology through his research and inventions, such as the slit lamp instrument and reflex-free ophthalmoscope.

Major Works

Gullstrand’s major works include his research on optical images, astigmatism, the structure and function of the cornea, and the improvement of corrective lenses used after cataract surgery. He also developed a mathematical model of the human eye known as the “schematic eye” based on his measurements of the eye’s optical constants.

Awards & Achievements

In 1911, Gullstrand was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the field of ophthalmology. He received honorary doctorates from three universities and was inducted as an honorary member of the Swedish Medical Society. In his honor, the society established the Gullstrand Medal and the Gullstrand Fund for the promotion of ophthalmic research.

Personal Life & Legacy

Gullstrand married Signe Christina Breitholtz in 1885, and they had a daughter named Esther Gisela. Unfortunately, Esther passed away as a toddler in 1888. Gullstrand passed away on July 28, 1930, in Stockholm. He was buried in the Northern Cemetery in Solna Municipality, Stockholm.

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