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In 1665 “the English Royal Society published the first popular science book, Micrographia, (with the subtitle Or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon). It was written by Robert Hooke, then a 30-year-old hunchbacked, cantankerous, neurotic hypochondriac who was also a brilliant natural scientist, polymath and an original fellow of the society that published the book.

 

Micrographia captured many people’s imaginations. In it, along with dozens of beautiful engravings based on meticulous illustrations by the author, Hooke provided not only a clear description of the architecture of fleas, the seeds of thyme, the eyes of ants, the internal makings of sponges, microscopic fungi and the small building blocks of plants, but he also provided a detailed description of his own microscope.”

 

A facsimile of this book is available in the Health Science Rare Book collection of the Archives and Special Collections.

 

For more information on the history of microscopes and discovery of the microscopic world, see Paul Falkowski, “Leeuwenhoek’s lucky break: how a Dutch fabric-maker became the father of microbiology,” Discover , June 2015, p. 58-63. It is also the source of the quote above.

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