Why is Robert Hooke important to the study of cells?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hooke is most famously known for coining the term "cell."  At the time, Hooke's microscope was one of the best ever produced.  It was a compound microscope with a light source.  In essence it's the same type of microscope students around the country use in class.  He used it to study all kinds of microscopic creatures.  In 1665 he published his book Micrographia which detailed his observations and included drawings. Going back to his contribution of the word cell, it's an amusing piece of history, because Hooke wasn't actually looking at a living cell.  Hooke was using his microscope to examine thin pieces of cork.  The sections of the cork reminded Hooke of the cells monks used within monasteries.  His published words are as follows: 

". . . I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular. . . . these pores, or cells, . . . were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this. . ."

In summary, Hooke is important to the study of cells because he greatly improved the microscope, microscopy, and coined the term "cell" as we use it today. 

malkaam | Student

Robert Hooke was born on 28th July 1635, he was an English natural philosopher, architect and polymath. One of Hooke's greatest accomplishments is related to cells.

At the age of 26, Robert C. Hooke joined the Royal Society of Scientists and was commissioned by King Charles II to conduct a series of microscopical studies, after Sir Christopher Wren gave up the project. In the mid seventeenth century, due advancements in microscopy, i.e the compound microscope devised by Hooke, it became possible for him to observe objects with more clarity.

In the year 1665 Robert Hooke discovered the cell while looking at a cork through the microscope and coined the name cell, which stuck, due to their resemblance to a bee hive. Even though he discovered cells he did not know their actual function.

So it can be said that Robert Hooke is important to the study of cells as it was through his compound microscope multiple sources of illumination cells were first discovered.

sid-sarfraz | Student

What is a Cell?

Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things.

Characteristics of Cells:-

  • The human body is composed of trillions of cells.
  • They provide structure for the body
  • Take in nutrients from food,
  • Convert those nutrients into energy
  • Carry out specialized functions.
  • Cells also contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves.
  • Cells have many parts, each with a different function. Some of these parts, called organelles, are specialized structures that perform certain tasks within the cell.

Discovery of Cells

The study of cells started about 330 years ago. With the invention of the microscope and its subsequent improvement, cells became visible and many new discoveries were made about them.

In 1665 English Scientist and Microscopist Robert Hooke described a honeycomb-like network of cellulae (Latin for little storage rooms) in cork slice using his primitive compound microscope. Robert Hooke used the term cells to describe units in plant tissue (thick cell walls could be observed). 

Of course he saw only cell walls because cork cells are dead and without protoplasm. He drew the cells he saw and also coined the word cell.

The word cell is derived from the latin word cellula which means small compartment. 

Discovery of Cells and Robert Hooke

In 1661 King Charles II of England commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to create a series of microscopical studies. Wren obliged, but after a few presentations found he didn't have the time and gave up the project to an upcoming scientist with something of a knack for drawing and mechanics.

Robert C. Hooke (1635-1703) was 26 years old when he took the assignment from Wren and joined the Royal Society For Scientists. In 1662, Hooke was appointed as Curator of Experiments for the newly founded Royal Society, whose purpose was to advance scientific understanding of the world.

As Curator, he was responsible for the experiments conducted by the Society. Hooke moved from Oxford to London, where he held the Curator position for forty years, during which time he made most of his scientific discoveries.

A self-educated child prodigy, he showed technical aptitude by recreating the entire inner workings of a clock out of wood, then assembling it to run.

Hooke recorded all his drawings and observations into Micrographia: The book was a showcase for Hooke’s particular talents – his understanding of nature and light, his highly developed skills in designing and constructing scientific instruments, and his skills as an artist.

Robert Hooke’s Importance (Study of Cells)

Robert Hooke is said to be on of the greatest scientist because of the following discoveries:-

  • The Measurement of Time

In about 1657, Hooke greatly improved the pendulum clock by inventing the anchor escapement. In about 1660, Hooke invented the balance spring, vital for accurate timekeeping in pocket watches, one of which he made for his own use.

  • Hooke’s Law / Law of elasticity

In 1660 Hooke discovered Hooke’s Law, which states that;

The tension force in a spring increases in direct proportion to the length it is stretched to.

  • Micrographia 

In 1665, when he was aged 30, Hooke published the first ever scientific best-selling book: Micrographia. In this book he illustrated his discovery of cells by their diagrams through a microscope.

  • Microscopy

Hooke had built a compound microscope with a new, screw-operated focusing mechanism he had designed. Previously, people needed to move the specimen to get it in focus. He further improved the microscope with lighting. He placed a water-lens beside the microscope to focus light from an oil-lamp on to his specimens to illuminate them brightly.

The extract below from Micrographia demonstrates Hooke's perspective on how the microscope is utilized to enhance the senses...

"In the collection of most of which I made use of microscopes and some other glasses and instruments that improve the senses... only to promote the use of mechanical helps for the Senses, both in the surveying the already visible World, and for the discovery of many others hitherto unknown"

- Micrographia, by Robert Hooke (1665)

  • Hooke’s Discovery of Plant Cells

Hooke had looked at the bark of a cork tree and observed its microscopic structure. In doing so, he discovered, and named the cell – the building block of life. Hooke did not discover the true biological function of cells.

  • The Force of Gravity

In a lecture in 1670, Hooke correctly said 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.


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