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  • 10/24/2004

Anton van Leeuwenhoek

(October 24, 1632 _ August 30, 1723)

Antony van Leeuwenhoek was an unlikely scientist. A tradesman of Delft, Holland, he came from a family of tradesmen, had no fortune, received no higher education or university degrees, and knew no languages other than his native Dutch. This would have been enough to exclude him from the scientific community of his time completely. Yet with skill, diligence, an endless curiosity, and an open mind free of the scientific dogma of his day, Leeuwenhoek succeeded in making some of the most important discoveries in the history of biology. It was he who discoveredbacteria, free-living and parasitic microscopicprotists, sperm cells, blood cells, microscopic nematodes and rotifers, and much more. His researches, which were widely circulated, opened up an entire world of microscopic life to the awareness of scientists.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek was born in Delft, Holland in October 24, 1632. His schooling was informal because he only learned physical science and math, but nothing else. One of his main influences was the scientist Robert Hooke. He became a liner apprentice when he lived with his uncle out of town; he was there for 6 years. When he moved back to Delft he opened a shop as a draper by himself. Then he married Barbara de May, they had 5 children. His wife died in 1666 and remarried in 1671 and they had 1 child. He made over 500 microscopes in his lifetime; some of them are still used today. Leeuwenhoek's microscopes magnified 20 or 30 times matural size. He looked at plant and animal tissues, also mineral crystals and at different fossils. He was the first to see living sperm cells of animals. Once he toke his razor he examined cork, plants, and other specimens.

He wrote letters to the Royal Society of London explaining what he saw in his microscopes. The Queen of England had to stop by herself because she got so excited of the discoveries. In his first letter he wrote about the sting of bees. Later it was translated into Latin, English, and Dutch and put into a daily newspaper. Over 50 years he wrote over 300 letters to them explaining his different discoveries.

"I found floating therein divers earthy particles, and some green streaks, spirally wound serpent-wise, and orderly arranged, after the manner of the copper or tin worms," he explained in one of his letters about lake water.  Visitors came to see what strange things he was describing.

On September 17, 1683, he wrote about the plaque on his teeth. "I then most always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort. . . had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water." This was his explanation in his letter. He was elected a full member in 1680 in London but he never got to go there to sign the register. He also never went to any of the meetings.

He died on August 30, 1723. He continued all of his observations till the day he died. He contributed greatly to the society of the past and the future. He made many great discoveries and inventions in his lifetime.

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