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The Hooke Microscope

Related Articles Slideshow: 17th-century microscopes from the National Museum of Health and Medicine Many images are closely associated with the 17th-century English experimentalist Robert Hooke: the hugely enlarged flea, the orderly plant units he named "cells," among others. To create them, Hooke used elaborately gold-stamped and turned microscopes such as the one pictured. Hooke's images, which persist among the most well-known depictions in all of science, appeared along with

By | November 1, 2007

Many images are closely associated with the 17th-century English experimentalist Robert Hooke: the hugely enlarged flea, the orderly plant units he named "cells," among others. To create them, Hooke used elaborately gold-stamped and turned microscopes such as the one pictured.

Hooke's images, which persist among the most well-known depictions in all of science, appeared along with other natural and fabricated marvels of the microscopic world in Micrographia (1665). The book was an expression of 30-year-old Hooke's life, complex with both remarkable technical skills and careful inquiry. In the massive volume, Hooke initiated the convention of visualization that characterizes science to this day.

<figcaption>This compound microscope, typical of those that members of the Royal Society used in 1665, was manufactured by London instrument maker Christopher Cock for Robert Hooke. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
This compound microscope, typical of those that members of the Royal Society used in 1665, was manufactured by London instrument maker Christopher Cock for Robert Hooke. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com

Micrographia was the second publication of the young Royal Society, which Hooke had helped to shape. For 40 years, first as an employee, then as a member, he kept the Society's collections and prepared weekly demonstrations at the request of its members, relying on his considerable technical virtuosity to craft complex devices to pursue their interests in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, military science, and biology.

Hooke frequently included microscopy demonstrations, regaling the reigning lights of English science - Newton, Boyle, Wren - with a variety of preparations. He used a number of instruments to extend the range of vision and investigate appearance and behavior at levels unseen by the unaided eye. Although he acknowledged the challenges of spherical and chromatic aberration in the compound microscope, he did basic work to establish the scale and size of otherwise unseen objects and offered hundreds of demonstrations, from plant cells and feathers and fine structures in animals to molds, manufactured items, fossils, and geological materials. Hooke's work initiated a popular interest in microscopy and spurred their commercial production.

Shortly after Micrographia appeared, the wake of the Great Fire of London demanded Hooke's attention as surveyor and planner, but his demonstrations for the Society continued unabated.

<figcaption>Drawing of what Hooke saw through his microscope. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
Drawing of what Hooke saw through his microscope. Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com

He explored the physics expressed in Hooke's Law, he corresponded with Leeuwenhoek, and engaged a vituperative Newton in argument regarding planetary motion, prompting the diarist Samuel Pepys to proclaim that Hooke "is the most and promises the least of any man in the world that I ever saw."

Comments

Avatar of: Laurie Doering

Laurie Doering

Posts: 1

November 13, 2007

When I was in high school and university my interest in history was very marginal. I don't know if it is age or wisdom, but my interest in scientific history has continued to grow. Whenever possible, I will always include a slide or two with historical relevance for my students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. With information overload from so many sources today, I feel that the majority of students are not exposed to essential and very meaningful historical facts in the life sciences. For many students, they will miss out completely. I admire and support your efforts to remind us of key historical roots that drive and shape many of today's discoveries.
Avatar of: Paul

Paul

Posts: 3

November 14, 2007

Years ago my mother suggested I read a book, "The Microbe Hunters" which had a strong influence in me following biology into my career today. Reading of these early and illustrious microscopists and the "cavorting little beasties" they marveled at was most inspiring. Thank you for including historical background among your many fine articles.

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