Robert Hook – The Forgotten Genius
Robert Hooke was a man whom his contemporaries regarded as “the most inventive man of all time”. Today, some call him British Da Vinci. Hooke was born in 1635, and in 1662 he became director of the research laboratory of the Royal Royal Society of London, the oldest English academy of science. In 1677 he became secretary of that academy. He died in 1703. Despite the reputation he gained through his scientific work, today is not known where his grave is. It’s only known that he was buried somewhere in the north of London.
In the past few years, scientists and historians are working hard to restore the reputation of this “forgotten genius”, as biographer Stephen Inwood called him. On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Hooke’s death, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich hosted an exhibition in 2003 featuring some of his outstanding inventions and discoveries. Who was Robert Hooke and why he was almost completely forgotten for such a long time?
Hooke was a man of science and a remarkable inventor. Among other things, he invented the cardigan’s wrist, which is now used in motor vehicles, the lens monitor, which regulates the light input into the lens of a microscope, a camera and a film camera, and a tightening spring of the alarm clock. He laid down the basic law of elasticity theory, which was named Hooke’s law. Its equation is still used today to calculate spring elasticity. Hooke constructed an air pump for Robert Boyle, a respected British physicist and chemist.
But one of Hooke’s biggest inventions was a complex two-lens microscope, later developed by Christopher Cock, a respected London optician. After that, Hooke watched a piece of cork under the microscope and discovered a series of hexagonal cavities called cellulae. This expression was later accepted as the name for the basic unit in the structure of all living beings.
In 1665 Hooke released a work called Micrographia, which was very famous in the early years. The Micrographia contained precise and very beautiful drawings where Hooke depicted the insect life he was watching under a microscope. His most famous is the drawing of fleas. The illustrations of 30x45cm depicted cowards, bristles and fleece fleece. Many wealthy readers of that time were amazed when they found out that these tiny insects often reside on the human body. It is said that women have become unconscious when they see Hooke’s drawing.
After comparing the tip of the sewing needle with some spiky forms of nature, Hooke wrote, “Under the microscope we can see hundreds of spiked creatures that are thousands of times sharper than the sewing needles. As an example, he mentioned the hair, the bristles and the insect panties, and the truncheons, the hooves and the hair of the leaves. These “creatures that we can see in nature” testify of the omnipotence of the one who created them, Hooke concluded. The microscope has enabled people to “discover a world in which one can see the almost incomprehensible complexity of living organisms,” Encyclopædia Britannica writes.
Hooke first began exploring the fossils under a microscope and, on the basis of that, concluded that fossils were actually the remains of long-dead organisms. He also published many other interesting scientific observations in Micrographia. Indeed, Hooke’s contemporary, prominent chronicler Samuel Pepys, called it the work of ‘the most original book he has ever read’. Allan Chapman, a Massachusetts-based science fellow at Oxford University, said Micrographia was “one of the most influential and influential works on the modern world.”
After a great fire that broke out in London in 1666, Hooke was appointed to a royal court surveyor. While working on the rebuilding of London, he worked closely with his friend Christopher Wren, who was also a scientist and royal geodesist. One of Hooke’s most famous works is certainly the London Monument, a pylon of 62 meters, erected in memory of a great fire. It is the tallest standing stone column in the world. Hooke intended to use it for experiments to examine his theory of gravity.
Though the Royal Observatory building in Greenwich is projected by Christopher Wren, Hooke helped him a lot. Among many Hooke’s architectural works are Montague House, the building where the British Museum was originally located.
Hooke was a powerful astronomer and one of the first scientists who developed a reflector telescope. He called his telescope to Scottish mathematician and astronomer James Gregory. Hooke discovered that the planet Jupiter was turning around its axis, and his drawings of Mars two centuries later were used to calculate the speed of rotation of that planet.
Why did he fall into oblivion?
In 1687 Isaac Newton published his work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Nature Philosophy). In that work, released 22 years after Hooke’s Micrographia, Newton described motion laws, including the law of gravitation. But historian Allan Chapman says Hooke “discovered many elements of gravitation theory before Newton.” Newton’s research on the nature of light was also inspired by Hooke’s discoveries.
Unfortunately, controversy over optics and gravity broke the relationship between the two scientists. Newton in his Principia Mathematica removed all his references of Hooke’s work. According to one expert, Newton even wanted to destroy all written documents that testify of Hooke’s contribution to science. Soon after Newton became to the Royal Society’s forehead, Hooke’s optical instruments disappeared, many of which were hand-made. So in the next two hundred years, Hooke’s work was almost completely forgotten.
It is ironic that in the letter Hooke, written on February 5, 1675, Newton pronounced his famous words: “If I saw more than others, that’s because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”
As an architect, an astronomer, a researcher, inventor and geodesist, Robert Hooke was truly an intellectual of his time.