Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Uncovering a Tiny World

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Uncovering a Tiny World

Article excerpt

Today we take for granted that we can see the miniature worlds of insects and microbes, but that wasn't always the case. The "microworld" went mostly unnoticed until 1665, when the natural philosopher Robert Hooke published his seminal book, Micrographia. This collection of illustrations and observations of common objects and insects as seen through a microscope became an immediate sensation, opening the eyes of the public to a new realm. It also legitimized use of the microscope for generations of scientists to come.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Other microscopic observations--made possible by lenses developed in the late 1500s and early 1600s--had been published before but none with such dramatic impact. Key to Micrographia's popularity was the richness and beauty of Hooke's drawings, shaped by the 30-year-old's unique experiences and eclectic interests.

As a child, Hooke was sickly and frail but showed a talent for drawing and mechanical gadgetry. His father believed the boy would become an artist or clockmaker. At 13, Hooke was apprenticed to the leading portrait painter in London but complained that the oil paints and varnishes irritated his chest. Hooke later went on to study science and became first Curator of Experiments for the British Royal Society.

Micrographia, filled with striking drawings such as the fly shown at right, was a book of science that emphasized the Society's empirical approach: using "a sincere Hand, and a faithful Eye, to examine, and to record, the things themselves as they appear. …

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