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Robert Hooke and the Microscope

Today marks the birth of English scientist Robert Hooke in 1635. Hooke dabbled in many branches of the arts and sciences, including astronomy, physics, watchmaking, and architecture. He was a member of the Royal Society and served as its curator of experiments, which meant that he demonstrated several experiments at each of the Society’s meetings (one biographer has called Hooke “the first professional research scientist” because of this post). This work provided the basis for many of his later published works.

Hooke’s most celebrated book is Micrographia (1665). In it, Hooke described the observations he made through both the telescope and the microscope and included the world’s first illustrations of objects and organisms as viewed through a microscope lens. The copperplate engravings of small insects like the louse or the flea (shown here) captured the imagination of 17th century readers and still fascinate viewers today. You can examine this plate in person in the library’s main floor gallery exhibit, “Curious Remedies,” and learn how the microscope helped advance medical science in the early modern period. Time is short, however — the exhibit will close in late September 2017.

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