Gravesande’s Air-Pump

An article on Willem Jacob Gravesande and his influence on air-pump design is available free (until 31 Jan., 2010) at The Annals of Science.

The Abstract:

In 1714, the Dutch scholar Willem Jacob’s Gravesande published a theoretical essay on how to optimize the air-pump. Although his paper did not attract much attention, there was one important supplier of air-pumps who knew about it: the Leiden instrument maker Jan van Musschenbroek. ‘s Gravesande and he cooperated intensively between 1717 and 1742. Among other things, this cooperation resulted in two new air-pump designs to replace Musschenbroek’s own models. A closer analysis of’s Gravesande’s influence on Musschenbroek’s repertoire reveals that the various changes were not inspired by the theory of the air-pump. Commercial and practical considerations were much more important than theoretical reflections, even though both approaches aimed at the same goal: a fast and handy air-pump.

Theory and practice in air-pump construction: The cooperation between Willem Jacob’s Gravesande and Jan van Musschenbroek. Anne C. van Helden, Annals of Science, Volume 51, Issue 5 September 1994 , pages 477 – 495.

Leeuwenhoek’s Zoological Researches

Free online from the Annals of Science, this two part look into Leeuwenhoek’s zoological researches.—Part I by F. J. Cole, of Reading University, 1937.

Leeuwenhoek’s observations were recorded and written up as they
were made, and, except for an occasional postscript, he does not appear
to have recognized the importance of a final revision. This, however,
has one great advantage. It enables us to trace the origin and growth
of the ideas in his own mind. The interest and significance of this
point is particularly evident in his work on plant and animal parasites,
where we can follow the evolution of the correct solution of the problem
as observation and inference expanded under his scrutiny. In the
sections of this review, therefore, Leeuwenhoek’s studies have been
followed in chronological sequence, and the dates given are those which
appear on the letters themselves, and are not those of publication 1.
There is much repetition in Leeuwenhoek’s letters. He refers to
this himself in Letter XXXII (1717), and explains that he reconsiders
and repeats his observations because by so doing he not only checks
his previous work but may light upon further discoveries. This, however,
does not explain why a statement should be repeated in the same letter.
No one can study these letters without being struck by the astonishing
intuition which Leeuwenhoek exhibits in the interpretation of natural
phenomena. He is always ready to speculate, even in matters on which
the imperfect knowledge and technique of his time gave him very little
assistance, and in most cases he has proved to be a sure guide. By
combining detailed observation with shrewd interpretation he often
develops an argument logically step by step until an irresistible conclusion
is reached.

Read the complete article in Annals of Science (Volume 2, Issue 1 January 1937 , pages 1 – 46)

Also available free: Leeuwenhoek’s Zoological Reseaches II.

While you are at it, the complete Annals of Science, from 1936 to 2009, are online free now…

These online articles, and those from many other journals, will remain free until 31 January, 2010 ONLY, so download the pdf’s while you can!

Giants of the Royal Society

Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) has an article at TimesOnline on the history of The Royal Society and what made it distinctive:

On the Royal SocietyQuite as remarkable as its cosmopolitanism was a second distinctive characteristic of the Royal Society — namely, that it wasn’t necessary to be well born to be part of it. Having wealth and title didn’t hurt, of course, but being scientifically conscientious and experimentally clever were far more important. No one better illustrated this than a retiring linen draper from Delft named Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Over a period of 50 years — a period that began when he was already past 40 — Leeuwenhoek submitted some 200 papers to the Royal Society, all accompanied by the most excellent and exacting drawings, of the things he found by looking through his hand-wrought microscopes. These were tiny wooden paddles with a little bubble of glass embedded in them. How he managed to work them is something of a wonder even now, but he achieved magnifications of up to 275 times and discovered the most incredible things: protozoa, bacteria and other wriggling life where no life was thought to be. The idea that there were whole worlds in a drop of fluid was a positive astonishment.

Leeuwenhoek had practically no education. He filed his reports in Low Dutch because he had no English and no Latin. He didn’t even have High Dutch, it appears. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that he had a genius for microscopy and a profound respect for knowledge.

Read the complete article, which is an extract from his book  Seeing Further: The Story of Science & the Royal Society (edited by Bill Bryson, published by HarperCollins) at TimesOnline.

Visit The Royal Society for more on Seeing Further, then visit Bill Bryson’s website.