Dr. Robert Hooke – The English scientist who discovered the cell, the law of elasticity and observed Mars and Jupiter


Dr. Robert Hooke was a genius; and if there is another word that describes someone as being above genius, it would be a title that belongs to Dr. Hooke.

He was an English polymath, natural philosopher, and an architect born on the Isle of Wight in 1635. Called “England’s Leonardo,” Hooke was simultaneously Surveyor to the City of London after the Great Fire of London, Gresham Professor of Geometry, and the curator of experiments at the Royal Society. And that’s not all folks.

Modern portrait of Robert Hooke (Rita Greer 2004), based on descriptions by Aubrey and Waller; no contemporary depictions of Hooke are known to exist.

Hooke was a sickly child who spent most of his time in bed. But that didn’t prevent him from expressing his beautiful mind in all the ways he could. While lying in bed, Robert started drawing from his imagination. His father was a clergyman and declared his son’s painting were not the simple childish art of a young boy, but the work of a genius. When he was 13-years-old, Robert’s father died leaving his boy £40, which was a substantial sum at the time.

Hooke noted the shadows (a and b) cast by both the globe and the rings on each other in this drawing of Saturn

Robert studied at Westminster School in London, where he excelled in mechanics, mathematics, and languages. In 1653, at the age of eighteen, he enrolled at Christ Church College at Oxford University where he focused on science. Hooke was building telescopes that would satisfy his curiosity in observing the orbit of Mars and the gas giant Jupiter. When he became interested in the theories of evolution, Hooke studied fossils and invented the modern microscope.


Hooke’s microscope

He was only 27 when he became curator of experiments for the Royal Society. By the age of 30, Hooke dedicated himself almost entirely to biology, making ever finer microscopes so that he could observe the structure of living beings.

By 1665, as his microscopes improved, observing slices of cork bark, Hooke came to the conclusion that they are made up of tiny square segments that he called “cells” because they reminded him of monks cloisters. And hence the word “cells” in biological terms was first used.


Hooke’s achromatic telescope. Photo credit

Following his discoveries, Hooke published his work “Micrographia,” which is one of the greatest books of all time, illustrated by the genius himself.

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