Know the scientist: Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703) is one of the greatest scientists of the 17th Century. From improvising a compound microscope to formulating the law of elasticity and from studying microscopic fossils to discovering a star in the Orion constellation, Hooke made his mark in a wide variety of fields.

Robert Hooke was born in England in 1635. When he was 13 years old, Hooke joined Westminster School, London. He studied mathematics and mechanics. In 1653, aged 18, he enrolled at the University of Oxford’s Christ Church College, where he studied experimental science and became a chorister.

In 1655, he joined chemist Robert Boyle as an assistant, and built the Boylean air pump. In 1660, Hooke discovered the law of elasticity, which states that the stretching of a solid body is proportional to the force applied to it. In the following decade, Hooke improvised the pendulum clock by inventing the anchor escapement. He also invented the balance spring, vital for accurate timekeeping in pocket watches. In 1662, at 27, Hooke became the Curator of Experiments in the Royal Society, London, a position he held for 40 years.

Astronomical contributions

In 1664, Hooke discovered a star in the Orion constellation and first suggested that Jupiter rotates on its axis. His detailed sketches of Mars were used in the 19th century to determine the planet’s rate of rotation. In 1666, Hooke published a volume on comets, Cometa, detailing his close observation of the comets between 1664 and 1665. In 1673, Hooke built the earliest Gregorian telescope, and observed the rotations of the planets Mars and Jupiter.

Observations through microscope

While exploring the world beyond our own, Hooke showed equal interest in studying life on Earth. In 1665, Hooke published the first-ever scientific bestseller: “Micrographia”, which described his observations of a wide diversity of organisms using an early microscope equipped with compound magnifying lenses, originally developed by Christopher Cock and improvised by Hooke. In “Micrographia”, Hooke presented the first depiction of a microrganism, the microfungus Mucor.

Robert Hooke used his microscope to study the ancient cells in fossilized wood. Even as he worked as a scientist, Hooke pursued a career in architecture. He designed many of the buildings that replaced those destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 1:39:13 PM |

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