ROBERT HOOKE (1635-1703)

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ROBERT HOOKE (1635-1703): Robert Hooke was an English philosopher, mathematician and natural historian and the first scientist to study and record living cells using the microscope. The existence of organisms too small to be seen by the naked eyes had long been suspected even before the discovery of the microscope but there was no particular instrument for their study as at the time until the microscope was discovered. Nevertheless, the discovery of the unseen forms of life (i.e., microorganisms) was linked to the invention of the microscope. Robert Hooke was also an excellent microscopist as at the time the microscope ushered in the field of microbiology because he observed and described fossils with the microscope. In the first book devoted to microscopic observation, Micrographia, which was Robert Hooke’s first book, Hooke clearly illustrated among many other things, the fruiting structures of microorganisms particularly moulds, which are a type of fungi; and he was a strong believer of biological evolution.


His work was the first known description of microorganisms, but the first person to see bacteria was the amateur microscope builder, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Leeuwenhoek in 1684 was aware of Hooke’s work, and he used extremely simple microscopes of his own construction to examine the microbial content of a variety of natural substances including water. Though his microscopes were crude as at the time when compared to today’s standards, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was able to see bacteria (which is much smaller than moulds) by the careful manipulation and focusing of his crude microscope. Antonie Von Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in 1676 while studying pepper-water infusions. Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of the microbial world with his amateur crude-microscopes set the pace for the development of the field of biological sciences known today as microbiology. The discovery and development of microscope cum microscopy by Robert Hooke and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and other notable scientists served as the foundation for the progress and sustenance of the field of microbiology as an important aspect of the biological/medical sciences. Progress in understanding the nature and importance of microorganisms remained slow for about 150 years after then, until in the nineteenth century when improved microscopes became widely distributed and used for a variety of scientific investigations. Today, there are plethora of high-tech microscopes including electron microscopes (EM) and confocal laser scanning microscope (CLSM) that can be used for detailed study of microorganisms.

Further reading

Brooks G.F., Butel J.S and Morse S.A (2004). Medical Microbiology, 23rd edition. McGraw Hill Publishers. USA. Pp. 248-260.

Madigan M.T., Martinko J.M., Dunlap P.V and Clark D.P (2009). Brock Biology of microorganisms. 12th edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings Publishers. USA. Pp.795-796.

Nester E.W, Anderson D.G, Roberts C.E and Nester M.T (2009). Microbiology: A Human Perspective. Sixth edition. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, New York, USA.

Prescott L.M., Harley J.P and Klein D.A (2005). Microbiology. 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publishers, USA. Pp. 296-299.

Singleton P and Sainsbury D (1995). Dictionary of microbiology and molecular biology, 3d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Slonczewski J.L, Foster J.W and Gillen K.M (2011). Microbiology: An Evolving Science. Second edition. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, New York, USA.

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