Micrographia, written by scientist Robert Hooke in 1665, was the first major book to examine the world through the eye of a microscope.
Now, 350 years since the best-seller first captured the imagination of the public, both the Royal Society in London, who originally published the book, and the National Library of Wales will host exhibitions celebrating Hooke’s work, as well as other contributions to microscopy through the centuries.
Last year in recognition of his contribution, Hooke’s diaries were inscribed on the UK UNESCO Memory of the World Register. These diaries are currently held by the Culture, Heritage and Libraries Department of the City of London Corporation.
Hailed by some as the UK’s answer to Leonardo Da Vinci, thanks to his important discoveries in the fields of physics, astronomy and horology, Robert Hooke was one of the greatest thinkers in the late British Renaissance.
Keith Moore Head Librarian at the Royal Society said:
‘“Robert Hooke was an extraordinary scientist – perhaps the first truly professional scientist in an era when that term was not even in common use. Hooke’s research work with his microscope […] is perhaps his most lasting legacy: if Newton saw further by standing on the shoulders of giants, then Hooke revealed new worlds of the infinitesimal”.
The autumnal exhibition at the Royal Society ‘Seeing Closer: 350 years of microscopy’, which is open Monday-Friday until 23 November 2015, features a first edition of Hooke’s Micrographia as well as works from other influential individuals in the discipline’s history. Highlights include the first edition of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s single-lens microscope and beautiful illustrations from other prominent scientists, such as Vera Fretter’s Mollusc Intestine ink drawings, salvaged from her home at Royal Holloway College during World War II.
Hooke himself was a talented illustrator, evidenced by his impressive copper-plated illustrations of a flea, which opens to four times the size of a page in Micrographia. Another of Hooke’s pioneering ideas came from his microscopic experiments with fossils, which persuaded Hooke and later the world that they originated not from stones, but from ancient creatures. This was a radical theory at the time, which predated the concept of the world as billions of years old.
The exhibition at the National Library of Wales will show the significance of the book 350 years after its publication.
Dr Aled Gruffydd Jones, National Library of Wales chief executive, said:
“Robert Hooke was an incredibly influential figure and Micrographia’s impact on the scientific world cannot be over emphasised.
“This new exhibition celebrates the pioneering spirit of the age, while also recognising the contribution of a number of Welshmen to the scientific revolution”.
Other items from the Library’s microscopic collection are also on display, including Welshmen Edward Lhuyd, Thomas Pennant, Robert Recorde, William Jones and Lewis Morris. In addition works from internationally renowned scientists such as Euclid, Descartes, Galileo and Newton will be shown, as well as a 17th century microscope and telescope that would have been used to make these important scientific discoveries.
The exhibition will be displayed in Hengwrt gallery of the National Library in Aberystwyth until the 9 January 2016, and will feature a programme of lectures organised to coincide with the exhibition.