Dr. James D. Ebert, a specialist in the development of the human embryo, will be the next president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, succeeding Dr. Philip H. Abelson.

Abelson, well-known physicist and editor of Science, The journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will reach Carnegie's mandatory retirement age of 65 next April.

Ebert will take office at Carnegie, one of the nations leading scientific research organizations, in July, 1978, Dr. Frank Stanton, chairman of the board of trustees, announced.

Ebert, 55, was head of Carnegie's Department of Embryology in Baltimore from 1965 to 1976, and a professor of Johns Hopkins University. He then became president of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass.

A Carnegie announcement called him "a highly creative embryologist and gifted teacher" who turned Carnegie's direction from the study of the embryo alone to the study of genes and cell membranes.

A graduate of Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., who received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins, he has been president of the Society for the Study of Development and Growth, the American Institute of Bilogical Sciences and the American Society of Zoologists. He is completing a four-year term as first chairman of the Assembly of Life Sciences of the National Research Council.