The Father of Modern Science and an 'unsung' hero...
Robert Hooke
"In tribute to his genius and dedication to science and creative thought...
and his breakthrough contributions to Microscopy!"
by Maurice Smith - March 13th 2000
(All rights reserved)

Robert Hooke Facts

Page 2 of 6   Associated:   Web Links | Books | CDs | Museum | Credits & References

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 works
2. 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 15 years.

It is interesting to mark this period of History!

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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Hearing: invented an ear trumpet.
The Monument: designed and built the London Fire Monument.
DIY: invented the spirit level.
Windows: invented sash windows - first used in Bethlam Hospital (Bedlam) which he also designed and supervised the building of.
Weather: Founded the field of Meteorology - the study of weather.
Pressure: first person in England to carry our experiments on the effects of reduced air pressure on humans... using himself as the first guinea-pig.
Stars: first person in England to observe stars in daylight using a zenith telescope.
Clocks: instrumental in his designs and improvements to clocks especially those crafted by master clock-maker Thomas Tompian.
Escapement: invented the anchor escapement in clocks.
Counter-balance: designed the first time-piece to measure time accurately at sea and on land - preceding John Harrison's (of Longitude fame) by nearly 100 years.
Fly-wheel: invented the Circular fly wheel used in many analogue watches and clocks still today.
Wind: Invented the first instrument in England for measuring wind strength.
Barometer: constructed the first wheel barometer.
Micro-dot: formulated the first notion of using micro-dot blobs of ink for conveying messages secretly.
Hypodermic needle: notionalized the first hypodermic needle from his microscopic studies of stinging nettles.
Gravity: first person to conceptualize the theory of gravity and its inverse-square effect... from which Newton was able to learn from and develop the mathematics for.
Keel: developed the first false keel to improve the stability of ships. Today's ships have stabilizing fins based on this idea.
Synthetic fibres: postulated on the possibility of synthetic silks through the spinning of threads of glutinous substances... 200 years before they were made!
Light Waves: argued that light was in fact waves and not particles. Isaac Newton believed light was made up of particles.
Sphere: argued that the earth was an oblate spheroid with gravity pull variant at different points of the globe.

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