Director, Optical Microscopy Division of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, a joint venture of the Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Tallahassee, FL
Perhaps one of the greatest experimental scientists of the 17th century, Robert Hooke of Britain, left an enduring legacy in disciplines as diverse as physics, architecture, astronomy, paleontology, and biology. Modern microscopes, clocks, and automobiles all bear his imprint, and an important law of elasticity still shares his name.
Hooke was born the last of 4 children to a minister on July 18, 1634, at Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight. As a child, he suffered from a devastating case of smallpox that left him physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of his life. An unhealthy child, Hooke grew into a hunchbacked, pale, skinny, nervous hypochondriac. His father, John Hooke, took an active role in Robert’s early education until he entered the Westminster School at the age of 13 following his father’s suicide. After graduating from Westminster in 1648, Hooke first conducted an apprenticeship with artist Sir Peter Lely, and then entered Oxford University where he met and studied under some of the greatest scientists in England. Hooke eventually became a paid assistant for the renowned Irish physicist Robert Boyle and helped develop a working air pump. He remained in Boyle’s laboratory until 1662, when he was made Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society of London, a job that entailed demonstration of scientific equipment and experimental procedures during weekly meetings of the entire Society.
In 1663, Hooke was officially elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, and 2 years later he received an appointment as professor of geometry at Gresham College. The latter position was accompanied by a suite of rooms at the college where Hooke lived and worked for the rest of his life. During this period, Hooke’s interest in microscopy and astronomy soared, and he published Micrographia, his best known work …