Person: Hooke, Robert
Robert Hooke was an English scientist who made contributions to many different fields including mathematics, optics, mechanics, architecture and astronomy. He had a famous quarrel with Newton.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Although formally a curate, since the minister was also Dean of Gloucester Cathedral and of Wells, John Hooke was left in charge of All Saints.
- As well as his duties in the church, John Hooke also ran a small school attached to the church and acted as a private tutor.
- As it was Robert's parents did begin to set up his education with this in mind but he continually suffered from headaches which made studying hard.
- Lacking confidence that he would reach adulthood, Robert's parents gave up on his education, leaving him much to his own devices.
- Robert's own ideas involved his observational skills and his mechanical skills.
- Waller, in the Preface to Hooke's Posthumous Works published in 1705, dates his belief in mechanics, in particular his belief that nature was a complicated machine, from the time that he let his imagination and his talents run riot at about age ten.
- Not only did Robert show talents at science, but he also showed skills at drawing.
- There was a portrait painter, John Hoskyns, who was working at Freshwater at this time and Robert used to watch him at work.
- Lely had studied at Haarlem in Holland and set himself up in London about five years before Hooke was sent to him.
- Influenced by Van Dyck he became the most technically proficient painter in England and Hooke could have learnt much from such a leading expert.
- Hooke enrolled in Westminster School, boarding in the house of the headmaster Richard Busby.
- Indeed Hooke was fortunate to come under the influence of Busby who was an outstanding teacher who quickly realised that he had a quite remarkable pupil.
- At Westminster Hooke learnt Latin and Greek but, although he enjoyed speaking Latin, unlike his contemporaries he never wrote in Latin.
- He began to study at Oxford at a particularly significant time for Thomas Willis, Seth Ward, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, John Wallis, Christopher Wren and William Petty were among those who regularly met as the "Oxford branch" of the "invisible college" or the "philosophical college" which had been set up in 1648-49 when some of the scientists meeting in London moved to Oxford.
- In Oxford Hooke learnt astronomy from Seth Ward and impressed Wilkins with his knowledge of mechanics.
- Wilkins gave him a copy of his book "Mathematical Magick", or the wonders that may be performed by mechanical geometry which he had published five years before Hooke arrived in Oxford.
- This book encouraged Hooke to continue to try to invent a flying machine and he conducted experiments in the grounds of Wadham College with pulleys.
- For a while Hooke assisted Willis with his dissection experiments.
- Boyle was looking for an assistant and Willis recommended Hooke to him.
- The main area of Boyle's interests were in chemistry but he had read of experiments conducted by von Guericke with the aid of an air pump and, knowing Hooke's skill with mechanical instruments, asked him if he could build one.
- A better air pump than that used by von Guericke had been made by Greatorix but Hooke felt that he could improve on the design.
- Indeed he did so and Hooke designed and built what is essentially the modern air pump.
- Hooke was never a person who did one thing at a time, indeed he seemed at his best when his mind was jumping from one idea to another.
- In 1660 he discovered an instance of Hooke's law while working on designs for the balance springs of clocks.
- 1660 was the year when a rather strange event happened regarding Hooke's spring controlled clocks.
- Hooke's first publication was a pamphlet on capillary action.
- The Society already had in mind appointing Hooke to this position and indeed on 5 November 1662 he was given the position.
- In many ways it did not look a marvellous deal for he was required to demonstrate three or four experiments at every meeting of the Society, something that was quite unrealistic and it is doubtful that anyone other than Hooke could have contemplated being able to provide.
- Although it was hoped that the Society would eventually be able to provide payment to Hooke, he was required to undertake the work without any recompense until the Society was in a position to do so.
- Hooke reacted to the impossible task set him by producing a wealth of original ideas over the following 15 years.
- It would be fair to say that it was through Hooke's flood of ideas that the Society prospered, but equally the demands brought out Hooke's genius to the full.
- In 1664 the Society agreed to pay Hooke a salary of £80 per year but shortly after this they arranged the position of Cutlerian Lecturer in the Mechanical Arts for him at a salary of £50 per year and then reduced his salary as Curator of Experiments to £30 but gave him an appointment for life.
- This did not provide the financial security that Hooke might have hoped for, since the Society often did not have sufficient funds to pay him as Curator of Experiments and when he was not paid for his duties as Cutlerian Lecturer in the Mechanical Arts he was forced to go to court to get payment.
- The year 1665 was the one when Hooke first achieved worldwide scientific fame.
- His book "Micrographia", published that year, contained beautiful pictures of objects Hooke had studied through a microscope he had made himself.
- Hooke invented the conical pendulum and was the first person to build a Gregorian reflecting telescope.
- In addition to his post as Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, Hooke held the post of City Surveyor.
- To Hooke the position of surveyor was a financial boon, more than compensating for the uncertainty of his other income.
- When Newton produced his theory of light and colour in 1672, Hooke claimed that what was correct in Newton's theory was stolen from his own ideas about light of 1665 and what was original was wrong.
- In 1672 Hooke attempted to prove that the Earth moves in an ellipse round the Sun and six years later proposed that inverse square law of gravitation to explain planetary motions.
- Hooke, however, seemed unable to give a mathematical proof of his conjectures or perhaps unwilling to devote his time to this type of pursuit.
- However he claimed priority over the inverse square law and this led to a bitter dispute with Newton who, as a consequence, removed all references to Hooke from the Principia.
- Frequent bitter disputes with fellow scientists occurred throughout Hooke's life.
- Historians have described Hooke as a difficult and unreasonable man but in many ways this is a harsh judgement.
- There is no doubt that Hooke genuinely felt that others had stolen ideas which he had been first to put forward.
- Hooke did indeed come up with a vast range of brilliant ideas many of which were claimed by others not because they wished to steal them from him, but rather because Hooke never followed through developing his ideas into building comprehensive theories.
- The diaries of Hooke are fascinating documents in that they tell us something about his character as well as painting an interesting picture of his times.
- Sometimes Hooke would work all through the night, and then have a nap after dinner.
- As Hooke grew older he became more cynical and would shut himself away from company.
- Hooke shows how bitter he feels in these lectures.
- A large portion of this work is devoted to Hooke's lectures on earthquakes.
Born 18 July 1635, Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England. Died 3 March 1703, London, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Analysis, Architecture, Astronomy, Geography, Origin England, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive