Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke (July 18, 1635 - March 3, 1703) was one of the greatest experimental scientists of the seventeenth century, and hence one of the key figures in the Scientific revolution.

Born in Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, Hooke received his early education at Westminster School. In 1653, Hooke won a place at Oxford. There, he met Robert Boyle, and was employed as his assistant. In 1660, he discovered Hooke's Law of elasticity, which describes the linear variation of tension with extension in an elastic spring. In 1662, Hooke was appointed Curator of Experiments to the newly founded Royal Society, and was responsible for experiments performed at its meetings. In 1665, he published a book entitled Micrographia, which contained a number of microscopic and telescopic observations, and some original biology. Indeed, the biological term cell is attributed to Hooke. Also in 1665, he was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College.

Robert Hooke also achieved fame as the chief assistant of Christopher Wren helping to rebuild after the Great Fire of London in 1666. He worked on the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and the infamous Bethlehem Hospital, Bedlam.

He died in London.


In addition to Micrographia and Hooke's Law, Hooke invented the anchor escapement and may also have invented the balance spring before Christiaan Huygens. An escapement is a device for regulating the rate of a watch or clock, and the anchor escapement was a major step in accurate watch design. The balance spring is also used to regulate the flow of energy from the mainspring. It coils and uncoils with a natural periodicity, allowing for fine adjustment of the period of ticks. Modern spring watches still use balance springs, and the most common escapement today is the double roller Swiss anchor escapement, which is a nineteenth-century modification of Hooke's design.

Hooke is also often credited with inventing the compound microscope, a design consisting of multiple lenses (usually three - an eyepiece, a field lens and an objective). While he did give much advice on new microscope designs to the instrument maker Christopher Cock, this attribution appears to be incorrect.

His other significant achievements include the invention of the universal joint, the construction of the first Gregorian reflecting telescope, and the discovery of the first binary star.

Hooke and Newton

There was lots of mutual dislike between Hooke and Isaac Newton. It all started in 1672 when Hooke criticized Newton's presentation showing that prisms split white light rather than modifying it. Newton was furious that the hunchback Hooke was unable to grasp his ground-breaking discovery, and threatened to leave the Royal Society. In 1684, Newton failed to recognize Hooke's contribution to his Principia. The mutual dislike lasted till the end of Hooke's life.

External links