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Robert Hooke

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Robert Hooke was an architect, physicist and philosopher best remembered for his law of elasticity. Hooke was born in 1635 in Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England to parents John Hooke and Cecily Gyles who served at the Church of England. Hooke as the boy was interested in crafting and constructing with a keen interest in mechanical toys. Upon Hooke’s father’s death in 1648, when he was only 13, Hooke decided to put his inheritance of 40 pounds to good use and headed to London – first, for an apprenticeship under painter Peter Lely and eventually to Westminster School.

At Westminster, Hooke was educated in Latin, Greek, Mathematics, and Mechanics. With a profound interest in science, Hooke then decided to enroll at Oxford’s Christ Church College in 1653 where he studied experimental science through astronomy and chemistry and served as an assistant to Dr. Thomas Willis. In 1655, Hooke met the natural philosopher Robert Boyle who was also teaching at Oxford and signed up as his assistant, a position he served until 1662, the same year when he graduated with a Master of Arts degree. With Hooke’s adept knowledge and capability in mechanics and equipment building, Hooke assisted Boyle in building and designing the equipment which helped Boyle establish Boyle’s law.

In1660, Hooke discovered the law of elasticity which began to be known as “Hooke’s Law”. According to the law, he tension force in a spring increases in direct proportion to the length to which it is stretched.

Impressed by his determination and artistry, Boyle played a key role in Hooke’s appointment as curator of experiments to the Royal Society of London in 1662 and within a year Hooke was appointed fellow in 1663. In 1665, Hooke, requiring further means of subsistence, accepted a position as professor of geometry at Gresham College in London. 1665 also happened to be the year when Hooke published the first ever scientific book – Micrographia, containing Hooke’s observations made through a microscope. Hooke’s publication brought forth the potential of life previously unimaginable.  Hooke managed to incorporate the minutest possible details of the natural world in his book and started a whole new discussion. In 1665, through his microscopic endeavors, Hooke discovered the first microorganism – Fungi. Hooke has also been credited with coining the term “cell” which came about during his observation of a cork tree. Hooke’s publication also managed to shed light on the existence of fossils and how they were mineralized versions of once alive beings.

Hooke’s achievements also touched base with astronomy when in 1664 he discovered the fifth star in the Trapezium, an asterism, in the constellation Orion and first suggested that Jupiter rotates on its axis. These observations were supplanted by one of the first Gregorian reflecting telescope that Hooke had designed. His keen eye for mechanics and equipment hailed him the title of “Renaissance man of the 17th century”.  Subsequently, in 1670, Hooke pointed out that gravity applied to all celestial bodies and that the force of gravity between bodies decreases with the distance between them. If the force were to be removed, the celestial bodies would move in straight lines. He postulated that the force of gravity could be measured by the force of pendulum – another one of his discoveries pertaining to timekeeping. Hooke rightly observed that a pendulum could not be used in a pocket watch, so an alternative method of keeping time was required.  Hooke invented a balance spring which was attached to the balance wheel and produced a regular oscillation; this oscillation allowed time to be kept accurately.

In terms of architectural feats, Hooke was appointed Surveyor to the City of London and chief assistant to good friend and architect Christopher Wren. Hooke helped assessed the damage done after the great fire of London in 1666 and redesigned many of London’s public places and buildings.

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