Abbe, Ernst (1840 - 1905) was a German scientist who devised innovative optical instruments. Many of his findings serve as the foundation for optical science.
Ernst worked with Carl Zeiss, a German manufacturer, to improve the quality of optical equipment, especially compound microscopes. Zeiss wanted to make the production of lenses a scientific process, and he hired Abbe to help with the endeavor. In his lifelong association with Zeiss's company, Abbe made a number of notable achievements. One of these was the Abbe sine condition, a formula to create a lens that produces sharper images. Another was the development of the apochromatic lens system, which helps to correct chromatic, or color, distortion of light.
Although Abbe's father worked long hours in a spinning-wool factory, the family suffered economic hardship. Financial assistance from his father's employers helped put Abbe through school. After studying physics at the University of Jena, Abbe received a doctorate in thermodynamics from the University of Göttingen in 1861. Two years later, he joined the faculty at the University of Jena, where he became a professor of physics and mathematics in 1870. He was named director of the astronomical and meteorological observatories at Jena in 1878.
While still working at the university, Abbe became research director at Zeiss Works in 1866. Zeiss made Abbe a partner in 1876. Upon Zeiss's death in 1888, Abbe became the sole owner, and, in 1891, he created the Carl Zeiss Foundation to promote scientific research and social improvements. In 1896, he reorganized Zeiss Works into a cooperative, dividing company profits between the University of Jena and employees. In addition, Abbe implemented work reforms, such as paid sick days, which were highly uncommon during that time.
In 1871, Abbe married Elise Snell, the daughter of the head of the physics department at Jena. Abbe and his wife had two daughters.