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Robert Hooke

July 18, 2010

Today marks the birthday of one of the world's most versatile natural philosophers -- the British scientist and inventor Robert Hooke. He was born 375 years ago today.

Hooke entered Oxford University at the age of 17. In his early twenties, he discovered what's known today as Hooke's law of elasticity, which says that the stretching of a solid mass is proportional to the force applied to it.

By age 30, Hooke was curator of experiments for London's Royal Society -- the first true scientific organization in the world. His prolific experiments, demonstrations, and writings helped to keep the prestigious group intact and financially solvent for many years. His greatest work, Micrographia, which was published in 1665, began the study of insect anatomy. Perhaps most important, it suggested for the first time that the microscope might be useful in biological study.

Hooke's inquiring mind also turned to the heavens. In 1664, he observed a dark spot in Jupiter's southern hemisphere. It's the first recorded mention of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which astronomers didn't formally catalog for another 200 years.

Hooke was one of many scientists who attempted to solve the mystery of planetary motion. His pioneering work was an inspiration to Sir Isaac Newton, who ultimately developed a theory of universal gravitation. But it was also the source of a scientific quarrel that turned two of the greatest scientists of their time into lifelong enemies.

Script by Laura Tuma, Copyright 1995, 2010

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