Biography of Robert Hooke

Known ForExperiments with a microscope, including the discovery of cells, and coining of the term
BornJuly 18, 1635 in Freshwater, the Isle of Wight, England
ParentsJohn Hooke, vicar of Freshwater and his second wife Cecily Gyles
DiedMarch 3, 1703 in London
EducationWestminster in London, and Christ Church at Oxford, as a laboratory assistant of Robert Boyle
Published WorksMicrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon

Robert Hooke (July 18, 1635-March 3 1703) was an 17th-century “natural philosopher”–an early scientist who was noted for a myriad of observations about life in the world. However, perhaps his most famous discovery was made in 1665, when he examined an sliver of cork with an optical microscope and found cells.

Early Life

Robert Hooke was born July 18th, 1635 at Freshwater in the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England He was the father of vicar Freshwater John Hooke and his second wife Cecily Gates. The health of his father was not ideal as a child, which is why Robert was housed until his father’s death. In 1648 in 1648, when Hooke was 13 years old, the young man was sent for a trip to London and was the first to be apprenticed to the painter Peter Lely and proved fairly skilled in his art but left as the fumes were affecting his health. Hooke enrolled at Westminster School in London, where he got a good academic education that included Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as the skills of the instrumentmaker.


He then went to Oxford and was a product of Westminster and Oxford, he enrolled in Christ Church college, where Hooke became the close collaborator and lab assistant to Robert Boyle, best known for his natural law on gas, known as Boyle’s Law. Hooke invented a range of items during his time at Christ Church, including a balance spring for watches however, he only published a few of the inventions. The tract he wrote was about capillary attraction, in 1661 and it was this treatise that brought him to notice of the Royal Society for Promoting Natural History established one year before.

Robert Hooke’s Claim to Fame

Hooke is often referred to as”the” English Da Vinci. He was credited with a variety of innovations and improvements in design and construction of instruments used in science. He was an idealist natural philosopher who was fond of the study and experimentation.

  • He developed Hooke’s law, which states that the force that pulls back springs is proportional to the distance it is pulled away from the rest.
  • Helped Robert Boyle by constructing his air pump.
  • Hooke invented and improved many scientific instruments in his time in the Seventeenth Century. Hooke became the very first person to replace pendulums used in clocks with springs.
  • He invented the compound microscope and the Gregorian lens. He is believed to be responsible for the development that of the hydrometer and wheel barometer and anemometer.
  • He coined the term “cells” for biology.
  • In his research into paleontology, Hooke believed fossils were living remains that were able to absorb minerals, causing petrification. Hooke believed that fossils could provide clues about the history of the time on Earth and also that certain fossils belonged to extinct species. In the early days the idea about extinction wasn’t widely accepted.
  • He collaborated alongside Christopher Wren after the London Fire in 1666, as an architect and surveyor. Some of Hooke’s buildings are still standing up to date.
  • Hooke was The Royal Society’s Curator for Experiments who was required to give numerous demonstrations during each weekly meeting. He served over a period of forty-five years.

The Royal Society

The Royal Society for Promoting Natural History (or Royal Society) was established in 1660, as a group comprised of scholars who shared a similar outlook. It was not affiliated with a specific university, and was instead funded under the patronage of British monarch Charles II. The Hooke’s day members included Boyle as well as his architectural genius Christopher Wren, and the natural philosophers John Wilkins and Isaac Newton The institution today boasts 1600 students from all over the world.1

In 1662 in 1662, The Royal Society offered Hooke the initial position of curator, which was unpaid and to supply to the Society with three-to four experimental sessions per week. They also assured him that they would pay him when they had enough money. Hooke was eventually paid for the position, and, when he was made an instructor in geometry, his housing was at Gresham college. Hooke was in the same position throughout his life, and they gave him the chance to conduct research on anything that was of interest to him.


Observations and Discoveries

Hooke was, like most other members of the Royal Society, wide-reaching in his passions. In awe of navigation and sea-going, Hooke invented a depth sounder and a water sampler. In 1663, he started recording daily weather data hoping to provide reliable weather forecasts. He created or improved each of the five meteorological instruments (the barometer, thermometer the hydroscope, rain gauge and the wind gauge) as well as developed an application form to keep data on weather.

About 40 years prior to the time that Hooke was admitted to his membership in Royal Society, Galileo had invented the microscope (called an occhiolino at that time or “wink” in Italian) as curator. Hooke purchased a commercial version and started an extensive and varied quantity of studies using it, focusing on plants as well as molds, sand and fleas. Some of his discoveries included fossil shells found in sand (now identified as foraminifera) as well as spores that were found in molds, and the blood sucking practices of mosquitoes as well as lice.


Discovery of the Cell

Hooke is renowned for his discovery of the cells of plants. When he examined the cork under the microscope of his instrument, he could see the presence of “pores” or “cells” within the cork. Hooke believed that the cells served as vessels for the “noble juices” or “fibrous threads” of the former cork tree. Hooke believed that the cells existed only in plants, as Hooke and his scientists have observed these structure only in plant matter.

Nine months of research and observations are documented in his 1665 work “Micrographia: or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon,” the first publication to describe the results of microscopes. It was filled with illustrations that are believed to be by Christopher Wren, such as that of a detailed insect that was observed under the microscope. Hooke is the very first to use the term “cell” to identify microscopic structures while describing cork.


Other observations and findings include

  • Hooke’s law: A rule of elasticity applicable to solid bodies that explained the ways in which tension increases and decreases in a spring coil.
  • Numerous observations about gravity’s nature as well as celestial bodies like comets, and planets
  • The nature of fossilization and the implications for the evolution of biology

Notable Awards

  • Fellow of Royal Society.
  • The Hooke Medal is presented in his honor from the British Society of Cell Biologists.

Robert Hooke’s Cell Theory

In 1665 Hooke utilized his compound microscope in 1665 to study the structure of the cork slice. He could see the honeycomb structure of cell walls in the plant matter that was the only tissue left as the cells had died. He coined the term “cell” to describe the tiny compartments he observed. It was an important discovery as in the past, nobody believed that organisms were composed of cells. Hooke’s microscope was able to provide the possibility of a magnification of around 50x. The compound microscope provided an entire new world of scientists, and also marked the beginning of research into the biology of cells. It was in 1670 that Anton van Leeuwenhoek, an Dutch biologist, was the first to study living cells with the compound microscope that was adapted to Hooke’s designs.


Newton – Hooke Controversy

Hooke, as well as Isaac Newton, were involved in an argument over the concept of gravity’s force using an inverse square relation to determine the elliptical orbits around planets. Hooke and Newton debated their theories in written letters to one another. After Newton wrote his Principia in 1859, he did not give credit to Hooke. If Hooke challenged Newton’s assertions, Newton denied any wrong. The resultant squabble between the top English scientists at the time would last until the death of Hooke.

Newton became the President of the Royal Society that same year and Hooke’s numerous collections and instruments disappeared along with the sole known photograph of him. As the President, Newton was responsible for the possessions entrusted to the Society however it was never proved that there was any involvement by him in the disappearance of these objects.

Interesting Trivia

  • The craters on the Moon and Mars bear his name.
  • Hooke developed a mechanistic model of human memory that was based on the idea that memories were a biological phenomenon that occurred within the brain.
  • British historian Allan Chapman refers to Hooke as “England’s Leonardo,” in reference to his resemblance with Leonardo da Vinci as a polymath.
  • There is no official portrait or photograph of Robert Hooke. His contemporaries have described Hooke as a slim person of average size with gray eyes and brown hair, and gray eyes.
  • Hooke never got married or had children.

Death and Legacy

Hooke was an outstanding scientist, a faithful Christian and a grumpy and impatient person. The main reason he was not able to achieve success was his lack of enthusiasm for math. Some of his ideas inspired and were further developed by people within and outside the Royal Society, such as the Dutch microbiologist who was the pioneer Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) Geographer and navigator William Dampier (1652-1715), geologist Niels Stenson (better known as Steno 1638-1686) Hooke’s personal foe, Isaac Newton (1642-1727). In 1686, when Hooke was a member of the Royal Society published Newton’s “Principia” in 1686, Hooke accused him of plagiarism. This was a matter that was so traumatic for Newton that he delayed the publication of “Optics” until after Hooke passed away.

Hooke kept a journal where he wrote about his ailments that were numerous however, while it does not possess the literary value of Samuel Pepys’, it contains a lot of details about everyday life in London in the aftermath of the Great Fire. He passed away, suffering from Scurvy, among other unknown and unnamed illnesses on the 3rd of March 1703. He never married or had children.

Leave a Comment

Adblocker detected! Please consider reading this notice.

We've detected that you are using AdBlock Plus or some other adblocking software which is preventing the page from fully loading.

We don't have any banner, Flash, animation, obnoxious sound, or popup ad. We do not implement these annoying types of ads!

We need money to operate the site, and almost all of it comes from our online advertising.

Please add to your ad blocking whitelist or disable your adblocking software.