The Legacy Collection

2018 Legacy Inductee

Herman M. Burian, MD (1906-1974)

Legacy Summary Statement

His contributions to the study of binocular vision and neurosensory anomalies are extensive. He succeeded Bielschowsky as head of the Dartmouth Eye Institute followed by 20 years at the University of Iowa. His former trainee, Gunter Von Noorden, continued his classic text, Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility, into several subsequent editions.


Herman Burian grew up in physiological institutes headed by his father in three countries. He was born of Austrian parents on January 14, 1906 in Naples, Italy where his father, Richard Burian, was director of physiology of the Stazione Zoologica, Marine Zoological Station. His informal education took place at home with the family speaking several languages and him frequently visiting his father’s physiological institute. Dr. Burian’s formal classical European education started in Naples. When Italy entered the war in 1915, the family moved to Leipzig, Germany and then to Belgrade, Yugoslavia where his father was at the University of Belgrade. Herman Burien received his medical degree in 1930 from the University of Belgrade.

His internship was at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Leipzig where he worked on rhodopsin and photochemistry. In 1931 he began his studies of the eye at the University Eye Clinic in Bern, Switzerland. His last stop in Europe was on the research staff of the Physiological Institute of the German University of Prague, Czechoslovakia.

In 1936 Burian accepted an invitation from Alfred Bielschowsky to join the group at the Dartmouth Eye Institute. There he was able to work with ophthalmology luminaries such as Ames, Lancaster, Linksz, Boeder, Ogle and Herzau. Dr. Burian became Chief Ophthalmologist at Dartmouth following the death of his mentor Bielschowsky.

In 1945, he left Dartmouth for private practice in Boston where he was actively involved in teaching at Tufts Medical School and Boston City Hospital. Dr. A.E. Braley recruited Burian to the University of Iowa to establish a division of ocular motility and binocular vision , which he headed for 20 years. Together with Lee Allen, he pioneered the trabeculotomy ab externo for congenital glaucoma.

Dr. Burian retired from Iowa in 1971 and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he taught for a while at the Universities of Louisville, North Carolina and Duke. He spent his retirement years polishing his seminal textbook on ocular motility. Unfortunately he died in Milan, Italy on November 25, 1974 while attending a pediatric ophthalmology meeting, before the book was ready to be published. Burian’s former trainee, Gunter von Noorden, finished the book and the first edition of Burian-Von Noorden was published in 1974. There have been several editions since then.

Herman Burian was one of the most outstanding strabismologists of the 20th century. He was a founder of the Squint Club, the International Strabismological Association and was particularly proud of his membership in the American Ophthalmological Society. Beyond ophthalmology he had interests in philosophy, the classics, music and the arts. He was an accomplished pianist and collected rare books and art. He was fluent in German, Italian, Serbo-Croat, English, and French and could read Russian and Spanish as well as classical Latin and Greek. Shortly before his death he was elected president of the Archeological Society of North Carolina.

Dr. Burien left a great legacy from his research and clinical observations in his writings and his classic textbook, Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility.

Herman M. Burian Headshot