Restoration Science and the Royal Society: Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton
Micrographia by Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke was born on July 18th, 1635. In his early life, Hooke worked as a painter and apprenticed under Sir Peter Lely (Pugliese, ODNB). In 1653 Hooke joined Christ Church, Oxford where he would serve as the assistant to Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle (Pugliese, ODNB). In 1662 Hooke would become the first curator of experiments for the Royal Society (Nakajima, 1994), and he would fully join the organization in 1663 (Pugliese). Hooke would start teaching the “history of nature and art” (Pugliese, ODNB) at Gresham College in 1664. Hooke would then in 1665 publish his most famous work Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon. With his background in art, the attention to detail within the pictures was astonishing (Pugliese, ODNB). The Micrographia is a collection of detailed etched pressings of objects observed through a microscope with contributing theories or thoughts about each observed object. Hooke observed many different objects including kidney stones, charcoal, glass drops (colloquially known as Prince Rupert Drops), and many different insects, plants, and fabrics (Pugliese, ODNB). Hooke also included some theories about the natural world like his calculation of the height of the atmosphere and his theory on combustion (Pugliese, ODNB). In Micrographia Hooke also coined the word “cell” when describing microscopic plant structures which we still use today Pugliese, ODNB).
Hooke writes: “We must first endevour to make letters, and draw single strokes true, before we venture to write whole sentences” (Hooke, Micrographia, 1). Hooke is expressing that people must first understand the small things that make up their lives before they can understand the larger picture.
Micrographia by Robert Hooke
Robert Hooke, as one of the greatest minds of his era, was practiced in the sciences of all kinds. One of his greatest works is Micrographia. For a man who specialized in physical sciences, Hooke also demonstrates an incredible understanding for animals and insects, and his work in this book is one of his most important accomplishments. In Micrographia, Hooke discusses the common ant. His understanding of this animal is demonstrably fairly far behind where our current understanding of it is. Hooke discusses an experiment he performed on the body of an ant (Hooke, Micrographia, 203). His experiment involves dropping the body of an ant into wine for the purpose of making it easier to draw. Such a process may seem trivial and archaic today but Hooke’s experiment goes a long way in showing the lengths he and his fellow scientists of the era had to go to gain what we would consider the most basic knowledge of insects.
Opticks by Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) is well known as one of the founding fathers of modern scientific theory. Throughout his life, he created many different discoveries and theories that were part of the greater Scientific Revolution. Perhaps one of the most prominent discoveries was his theory of the laws of motion that remain a key part of any scientific study to this day. In his Opticks (Newton, 1704), Newton looked at how light interact with the world around him, using much of the knowledge and study done in Hooke's Micrographia (Hooke 1665).
With the revolution in microscopes, Newton sought to expand upon the work from his predecessors to better understand this world. Newton himself has contributed greatly to the future of science and study itself. His Opticks (Newton 1704) opened the doors for many future studies on light and refraction and paved the way for others to follow.
Throughout his work in Opticks (Newton 1704), Newton used mathematics and equations to prove his work, relying not just on the explanation with words, but also the clear nature of numbers to show his discoveries. Reading and understanding the concepts within the work, we begin to see how these equations come together and support his thesis. There are several extended pages like this throughout his work that lend credit to the overall work. I will always struggle to understand math in such a complicated way, but this change in proving the facts and explaining the discovery was very essential to the scientific method and indeed the emergence of science to explain the world around us.
The equations and terminology can be confusing for the average reader but the definitions and propositions offered throughout the book gave clarity without intimate knowledge of the material itself. Newton and the Royal Society as a whole understood that their works were meant to be a resource for the future and to provide insight to the greater educated population.
- Daniel Clemenson