You may know that yesterday’s Google Doodle celebrated Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s 384th birthday. What you may not know is how important he is to your visual lifestyle.
Now That’s Just Gross
I still remember the first time I used a microscope in grade school. The teacher had us look at samples of our own saliva. I think it was just for the shock value.
If you have ever done this, you know the bacteria in our mouths are easily seen through microscopes. They wriggle and squirm through the slide. I was both fascinated and disgusted by what I saw.
I got my own microscope that Christmas, and I had a lot of fun with it. It came with slides of plant cells and insects, and I made other slides from mud puddle water. It opened up a whole new world.
How Do You Spell That, Again?
According to Wikipedia, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was born in the Dutch Republic in 1632. He’s known as the father of microbiology, and made over 500 different lenses for 200 or so microscopes. At first, he made lenses to see small fabric threads in his previous business.
He then used his lenses to see things no one had ever seen before, including muscle fibers, microscopic details of bees, and blood flow through capillaries. He recorded his findings in more than 560 scientific letters. He became a well known scientist.
That changed when he discovered single-celled bacteria in pond water. He called them “animalcules.” Other scientists were skeptical, ridiculing him and even questioning his sanity. The Royal Society of London sent several scientists to van Leeuwenhoek’s home to investigate. He was proven right, and was offered membership in the Royal Society.
So why celebrate a man who was born nearly 400 years ago? Here are 4 great reasons:
- His contributions to science: Every time I see a patient, I use many lenses. Your eye doctor uses a microscope to check your eyes too. I regularly examine blood flow in eyes. Much of this would not be possible without van Leeuwenhoek’s curiosity and exploration.
- His contributions to medicine: Think about the last time you were sick. It’s not a big deal to head to your doctor for medicine. In van Leeuwenhoek’s day, no one knew bacteria existed. And without that knowledge, who would discover the host of antibiotics that keep us healthy today?
- His contributions to optics: van Leeuwenhoek made his own microscope lenses by melting and reshaping glass. His lenses were far superior to the standard lenses of his day. This understanding of lenses has advanced microscopes, telescopes, cameras, and yes, even your glasses!
- His persistence: Before him, no one had ever seen bacteria. The world was so skeptical he may as well have announced a Martian invasion. But he knew what he saw, and he persisted in reporting his findings until he was heard and taken seriously. In short, he never gave up.
Unfortunately, van Leeuwenhoek didn’t trust people. He never shared his lens making techniques (it took until well into the 20th Century to duplicate them). And, he never showed his best lenses to visitors. That’s one thing I hope you don’t copy. If you’re living the visual lifestyle, you know that people are beautiful and helping one another is important.
Although Antoni van Leeuwenhoek didn’t share, we’re still reaping the visual benefits of his work centuries later.
Question: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in a microscope (or telescope)? Please tell me about it in the comments below.
Author’s Note: Historical information about Antoni van Leeuwenhoek sourced from the following Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonie_van_Leeuwenhoek