|Robert Boyle is now recognized as one of the founders of modern chemistry. What is not so apparent,
nor recognized, is that it was Robert Hooke who actually created the air pump on which Boyle's experiments could
be conducted. Much of Boyle's work on gasses may have been inspired, if not strongly based, on work carried out
by Hooke on the science of springs and elasticity.
Robert Boyle wondered if the air pushed back in the same way that a
spring will push back when it is compressed. He knew that compressed springs obeyed Hooke's law: that the amount of force with which they push back increases
in proportion to the extent to which they are compressed-for every centimetre of compression the force increases
by the same amount. He was curious
to see if the "spring" of gases, as he called pressure, behaved in the same manner.
Which begs the question of: was it
Robert Hooke who provided much of the thinking and intuitive-modelling
behind the discoveries made by Boyle on the nature of gases?
It is interesting to note that Hooke's Law, announced in 1676 by Robert Hooke, in connection with springs was concealed
by Hooke in an anagram for two years, to prevent rivals from claiming to have made the discovery themselves.
As will be noted by the reader throughout this text and the few good books available on Robert Hooke, it repeatedly
appears that Hooke was actively involved in a wealth of ideas, discoveries, and formulations of scientific laws
accredited to the early pioneers of Science in the 17th century. Hooke was a gregarious man in his early years
- someone willing to exchange ideas and talk freely about his and other associates work.
In later years, there are signs in his diary that he felt much of his contributions towards the success of some
of his associates had gone unrecognized by them in their publications and works2. He remained a good friend with Boyle
throughout his life - indicating that he found no issues in this regard with Boyle's work. It is likely, as in
any group of academics, that science problems find their solutions more often through the result of cross-fertilized
ideas between minds with differing perspectives. Much of Hooke's contribution to his associates work would undoubtedly
be as a result of this natural exchange of ideas. However, it was Hooke's diversity of interests and skills, along
with his central position for 40 years as the curator of The Royal Society, that formed a catalytic pivot in the
mid to late 17th century from which English Science successfully laid down its foundation.
Hooke and the Royal Society
Hooke was appointed curator 4
of experiments for the New Royal Society on the 5th November 1662, although he is mentioned
in proceedings of the society earlier than this on April 10th 1661. The New Royal Society was founded in 1660 as
a result of less formal meetings between scholars, predominantly of The Oxford Society of scientists, in the previous
It is interesting to mark this period
The society was formed at a time when the English middle-class revolution led by Cromwell was coming to an end,
and during the restoration of Charles II as monarch to the throne. Here we have some of the finest minds and pioneers
of modern science coming together to exchange ideas and work that was to shape our modern world. Their meetings
were held against an English backdrop-tapestry of piracy, plague, witchcraft and witch trials: the pirate Captain
Kidd was born in Scotland in 1645 and died in 1701; Mathew Hopkins the Witchfinder general 'conducted' witchcraft
trials in Essex in 1645; bubonic plague was rife throughout England culminating in the Great Plague of London in
1666. This was a period of English history contrasting starkly with the aims and visions of these founding members
of the society.
Robert Hooke's role in the society was to report or demonstrate several major experiments weekly across a spectrum
of interests to the society members. The topics would range across all scientific topics: chemistry, astronomy,
biology, microscopy, medicine, etc. It is no small feat to provide even a small set of these experiments let alone
to do so for forty years - which Hooke managed to do up until his death.
Hooke's first major
published work was Micrographia 3 - one of the most
significant works ever published as it established the foundation of using microscopy to advance biological science.
It was published on November 23rd 1664 and was ready for sale in bookshops by 1665. Within its skillfully illustrated
pages, is the scientific work of Robert Hooke achieved in his first 30 years. His observations at the microscope
are extensive and detailed - many of which led other notable scientists to engage their interest in his findings.
He observed coloured rings around the central areas of mica sheets pressed together - attracting Isaac Newton's
interest and ultimately contributing to the realm of physics by what were later to be called 'Newton's Rings'.
Hooke's later invention of a hygrometer was as a direct result of him observing hairs from the beard of a goat
- realizing that the hair would bend when dry and straighten when wet. His observations of cork led to the coining
of the word 'cell' to describe the tiniest components of living plant material, and his examination of silk caused
him to wonder if an artificial silk could be spun from glutinous substances: 200 years before Rayon was prepared in 1884.
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