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Heim, Albert von St Gallen

Category: Scientist


Professor Albert Heim (12 April 1849 – 31 August 1937) was a Swiss geologist, noted especially for his three-volume Geologie der Schweiz.

He wrote over 400 papers and was described in his obituary as “a prolific writer easy to read and understand.”  He was also an accomplished artist, “equally at home drawing forward with a pencil or backwards with a burin

Heim is especially distinguished for his researches on the structure of the Alps and for the light thereby thrown on the structure of mountain masses in general. He traced the plications from minor to major stages, and illustrated the remarkable foldings and overthrust faultings in numerous sections with the aid of pictorial drawings.

His work, Mechanismus der Gebirgsbildung (1878), is now regarded as a classic, and it served to inspire Professor C Lapworth in his research on the Scottish Highlands (Geol. Mag. 1883). Heim also devoted considerable attention to the glacial phenomena of the Alpine regions.


Heim’s many services to science led to his receiving honorary doctorates from Bern, Oxford and Zurich.  He was made President of the Swiss Geological Commission in 1894 and received the freedom of the city of Zurich in 1899.

The Wollaston medal was awarded to him in 1904 by the Geological Society of London, and in 1905 he was made a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.  On his retirement in 1911, Heim’s students as a mark of appreciation, organised a torch lit procession for him.

A constant kinetic friction coefficient controlling the movement of pyroclastic flows and avalanches was named Heim coefficient after him. The ridge Dorsum Heim on the Moon was also named after him.

Geologie der Schweiz

The Geologie der Schweiz is the most wonderful of all his publications.  It is the product of an elderly man, who had seen some of his most cherished theories yield place to others on a grander scale.  If Heim at this stage had stood aside as benevolent observer he would have retained his place in the general regard.  Instead, he boldly decided to monograph the geology of his country.  For this purpose he drew, not only upon the treasury of long established fact, but also with magnificent adaptability upon a bewildering wealth of new material that had been recently accumulated at unprecedented pace; and he arranged and illustrated the whole in a manner that no one else could have attempted.  Heim’s Geologie der Schweiz  is by far the finest national geology that has yet been produced and quite possibly may never be surpassed.



Born in Zürich, Professor Heim was educated at Zürich and Berlin universities. He continued his geological education by travelling in Scandinavia and Italy.  His visit to the latter country coincided with a great eruption of Vesuvius in April 1872, which provided him with material for his first scientific paper.

Very early in life he became interested in the physical features of the Alps, and at the age of sixteen he made a model of the Tödi group. This came to the notice of Arnold Escher von der Linth, to whom Heim was indebted for much encouragement and geological instruction in the field.

In the middle, Professor Dr. Albert Heim (1849-1937)
he made the Bernese Mountain Dog, then Dürrbächler, well known

In 1873 he became professor of geology in the polytechnic school at Zürich, and in 1875 professor of geology in the university. In the same year he married Marie Heim-Vögtlin, Switzerland's first woman physician.

In 1882 he was appointed director of the Geological Survey of Switzerland, and in 1884 the honorary degree of Ph.D. was conferred upon him at Berne.

Heim was a great outdoors man in general.  He loved dogs and wrote a number of books about them.  He held very strong views about alcohol and tobacco.  He was also a keen mountaineer and a collector of near death experiences of which he himself had one after falling from a mountain.  We have his description as an observation.

His obituary describes him as ‘dearly beloved by his intimates’.  He died at the great age of eighty eight.  He had been left a widower in 1916, but was survived by a son almost as distinguished as his father – Arnold.


The photos of Bernese Mountain Dogs shown here appeared in Professor Albert Heim's 1914 publication entitled "Die Schweizer Sennenhunde"


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