Death of Robert Hooke: March 3rd, 1703. (Months Past)

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE most brilliant and versatile figures of his time, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) died a disappointed man. His own law, Hooke's Law, has to do with elasticity, but he brought a piercing intelligence and inventiveness to bear on a remarkable range of fields--anatomy, astronomy, geometry and geology among them--at a time when science was young and not yet compartmentalised. Hooke proved the rotation of Jupiter on its axis and determined the rotation period of Mars. He discovered that light rays bend round corners (diffraction) and put forward the wave theory of light to account for it. He investigated the action of the lungs and identified the role of air in combustion. He studied the crystal structure of snowflakes and the honeycomb structure of cork. He was interested in music and acoustics, and he designed balance springs for watches. He suggested the manufacture of artificial fibres by copying the action of silkworms. He examined fossils and tried vainly to get the history of the Earth examined in a non-Biblical light.

Stephen Inwood's recent biography, The Man Who Knew Too Much, shows Hooke interested in virtually everything. He devised improved scientific instruments--thermometers, telescopes, microscopes, pendulums and pumps--as well as a pedometer, a marine barometer, a depth sounder and various navigational instruments. He made advances in the study of insects and lectured on the medicinal properties of cannabis. He worked on machines for making cider and measuring the wind. He considered the possibilities of flying machines, long-distance signalling systems and bouncing shoes, which would shoot the wearer twelve feet up in the air. …