Chapter 43 : Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Clifford Dobell, and Robert Hooke

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Antony Van Leeuwenhoek was a draper, with no scientific training, who constructed excellent (though simple) microscopes, and used them so skillfully, that he was able to see bacteria, protozoa, spermatozoa, blood corpuscles, and many other objects invisible to the naked eye. The microscopes consisted of a single, very small, biconvex magnifying glass, which was mounted between small apertures in two thin oblong metal (usually brass) plates riveted together. The user can hold the instrument close to the eye and use little thumb screws to adjust the focus. The affinity of Clifford Dobell for his subject can be seen by perusing the “epistle to the reader” that prefaces his book. The epistle contains similar flourishes of both humility and arrogance. He discovered that the only English version of Leeuwenhoek's letters was badly garbled. After completing the initial, laborious work of translation could Dobell embark on his second task, a massive historical search for every paper and manuscript that could cast further light on Leeuwenhoek and his researches. Doubtless history will record that microorganisms were discovered by “two remarkable geniuses,” Antony van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Clifford Dobell, and Robert Hooke, p 201-205. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch43
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1. de Kruif, P. 1926. Microbe Hunters. Harcourt, Brace, and Co., New York, NY.
2. Dobell, C. 1932. Antony van Leeuwenhoek and His “Little Animals.” Harcourt, Brace, and Co., New York, NY.
3. Gest, H. 2004. The discovery of microorganisms by Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Fellows of The Royal Society. Notes Rec. R. Soc. 58: 187 201.
4. Gest, H. 2007. Fresh views of 17th-century discoveries by Hooke and van Leeuwenhoek. Microbe 2: 483 488.

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