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Robert Hooke: Biography, Facts, Cell Theory & Contributions

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  • 0:01 A Scientific Feud
  • 0:54 Who Was Robert Hooke?
  • 2:04 Contributions to Cell Theory
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the feud between Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton, and discover the great legacy that Robert Hooke left behind even though no one remembers his name.

A Scientific Feud

Robert Hooke was one of the greatest scientific minds of the 17th century, but hardly anyone knows his name today. He was engaged in a rather heated quarrel with Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most revered scientists in the English-speaking world, over his contributions to Newton's Theory of Gravitation.

In this case, though, Newton didn't win as much as he just lived longer. In 1703, the year Hooke died, Newton became president of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. During Newton's presidency, the only known portrait of Hooke disappeared. Just two years after his death, Hooke's biographer, Richard Waller, described Hooke as 'despicable' and 'crooked'. Over the next several hundred years, as Newton rose to fame as the father of modern physics, Hooke was depicted as Newton's archenemy, a petty, hateful ogre whose sole intent was to tear down the great Sir Isaac Newton.

Who Was Robert Hooke?

Robert Hooke was a polymath, which is basically a Renaissance man, specifically a Renaissance man of the sciences. Allan Chapman, a British historian, referred to Hooke as England's answer to Leonardo Da Vinci.

Robert Hooke provided many important contributions to a wide range of scientific fields including physics, chemistry, anatomy, biology, geology, paleontology, architecture, and memory. His Theory of Elasticity provided him with the tools to become the first person to use balance springs to regulate watches. His observations of refraction allowed him to deduce the Wave Theory of Light. He was also the first person to suggest that matter expands when heated and that the air is made of small particles separated by great distances. His use of the microscope to examine fossils made him an early proponent of evolution.

He influenced and worked with many other great scientists of his time. His designs for an air pump led to Robert Boyle's Law regarding the pressure and volume of gasses. His early studies with microscopes inspired Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microbiology. It was his pioneering work on planetary gravitation, however, that got him into trouble with Newton.

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