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

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Much has been made in a few recent books about controversy between Hooke and Newton. The only real contention registered by Hooke was in regard to Newton's published work on Planetary Motion.

Hooke wrote a letter to Newton in 1679 explaining his theories on planetary motion which he considered to be a force continuously acting upon the planet and diverting it from a straight path. Newton wrote back explaining his theory of the Earth's rotation, providing a sketch showing the path of a falling object spiralling towards the centre of the earth. Hooke replied that his (Hooke's) theory of planetary motion would make the path of the falling object an ellipse - providing a sketch to demonstrate his argument.

Newton admitted his own drawing was wrong but 'corrected' Hooke's sketch based on his (Newton's) theory that the force of gravity was a constant (it isn't). It is important to note here that Hooke wrote again to Newton stating that he (Hooke) considered gravity to involve an inverse square law and was not constant!

It appears that Hooke's contemporaries may have had difficulties in grasping this concept for in 1684 Wren, Hooke, and Halley discussed at the Royal Society, whether the elliptical shape of planetary orbits was a consequence of an inverse square law of force depending on the distance from the Sun. Halley wrote that Robert Hook says he has the answer but would not publish it for some time so that others (Newton?? -
author) trying and failing might know how to value it.

Newton's Principia prepared April 1687 and sent to Halley for publication caused Hooke to claim priority over the realization of the inverse square law of gravity. Newton had made no mention in his first edition of Hooke's contribution, but did made some amends in the second edition. Newton tried to prevent the publication of the third edition in reaction to these claims. Fifty years later, after the death of Hooke when Newton wrote his own recollections of these events, the account he gives disagrees with the historical facts and records surviving this period. These records are available for inspection today.

It is also interesting to note that Newton became the President of the Royal Society in 1703 - the year Hooke died - and his duties would have involved the responsibility of the society's repository, including the various donations by fellows of the society. Many of Hooke's contributions have been lost or dispersed without record as to what happened to them.

Hooke's design for a marine chronometer was rediscovered only in 1950 at the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. His fossil collection which he regarded as important for students - lost! The only known portrait of Hooke which resided originally in the society President's office - lost!

It would be conjecture only to suggest that Newton acted deliberately in losing many important works. Many other causes could have contributed to the loss of these items although it might be considered that Newton had motives to imply culpability.

The failure of greater acknowledgment for Robert Hooke and his contribution to science is probably due more to his own diverse and intense activities. Being involved with so many projects, experiments, explorations, and activities - it is likely that he often failed to culminate much of his work through to published form.

Rather than concentrate on who really should have proper claim to aspects related to Hooke and Newton's work, it would serve far better to focus on Hooke's real and major contribution to science:-

He was an experimental scientist, a man who laboured intensively to open up new ideas and promote questions in others concerning our natural world - often providing the right 'doors' in the early maze of scientific exploration for others to enter.

Each 'door' was the starting point to a 300 year journey of discovery, proof, and advancement down separate paths which many great scientists then travelled; each path - a discipline of scientific research. It was Robert Hooke, in his role as curator of experiments for the Royal Society, who prepared each pioneer for his journey. He brought each to a new door he discovered. He provided each with a rudimentary but accurate map, contributed the torches to light their first critical steps... then guided his fellows as they entered the darkness!

If we are to do justice and recognize Robert Hooke for the extraordinary and gifted genius he was; if we are to ensure he is remembered for the wealth of knowledge and example he provided us with; there is no need to put doubt on the work of other great scientists alive at the time or thereafter. All we need do is understand precisely who Robert Hooke was:
founder of English Microscopy, English Biology, English Meteorology, Earth Sciences and Geology. England's first experimental scientist... natural philosopher of science... and inspirational father to the foundation of scientific inquiry and discovery in England!

by Comments to the author sent via our contacts page quoting page url plus : ('micuk','')">Maurice Smith - Feb / March 2000

Previous Page | Credits


Gravity: was it Hooke and not Newton who first grasped and realized the inverse-square law of gravity - one of the most profound discoveries in scientific history? Although Newton ultimately produced mathematical proofs for gravity and planetary motion - was it through the work and mind of Robert Hooke, that he came to grasp the truth?
Longitude: did Hooke produce the first marine chronometer able to accurately determine longitude 100 years before John Harrison?
Did Newton prevent this discovery becoming available? Hooke's improvements to time-keeping mechanisms were significant with many of his designs and ideas freely shared with John Tompian - master clock-maker and craftsman.
Whispering Gallery:
did Hooke influence the design of The Whispering Gallery at St. Paul's cathedral? Hooke had already applied sound amplification methods in building construction at Montague House, and had already invented a hearing trumpet. He was greatly aware of the nature of sound and that sound-frequency was caused by beats or pulses. He was a close friend of Christopher Wren and cooperated with him in the rebuilding of London after the fire in 1666?
Light: was it Hooke's observations with a microscope that led to the theories of light refraction and Newton's discoveries of white light being made up of coloured light? Hooke was of the opinion that light was made up of waves. He had observed rainbow effects from the surface of objects studied under the microscope.
Sound Waves: Should it be Hooke, and not Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini, who should be credited with the discovery of the wave nature of sound? Variations in sound, called beats, are credited to have been discovered in 1740 by Giuseppe Tartini but Hooke determined the frequency of Middle C and rationalized that sound was made by a series of beats approximately 80 years previously?
Depression: did Hooke suffer depression? Although energetic and prolific in his work, there is at least one occasion recorded where he was suffering from melancholy - an early name for depressive disorder. His attention to the improvements he made in the rebuilding of Bethlam Hospital may well show a sympathetic interest in the treatment of depressed patients. Did this stem from him occasionally suffering the disorder?

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Published in the March 2000 edition of Micscape.

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