The AstronomerJohannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632–1675)1668Oil on canvas*Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures*Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) 1668 Oil on canvas. (Public Domain)

I am looking to restart this blog on a casual basis, with the goal of sharing items on and around the Dutch Golden Age, with a focus on science. art and culture. It will no longer be Leeuwenhoek-centric, (although he remains one of my personal heroes of science), but rather it will generally share how that era continues to reverberate in society today. It will probably retain the bias I have for Delft, but that is to be expected.

I’m presently looking for a new blog name, so suggestions will be accepted! (…and yes, The Dutch Golden Age has already occurred to me, and may still be used.)

Leeuwenhoek and The Lecture

Every three years, the Royal Society recognises excellence in the fields of microbiology, bacteriology, virology, mycology, parasitology, and microscopy by offering the Leeuwenhoek Lecture prize. For more on this lectureship prize, visit Leeuwenhoek Lecture at the Royal Society.

For a more on the prize and why Leeuwenhoek is honored in this way, read The Leeuwenhoek Lecture 1988. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek 1632-1723 (pdf) by A.R. Hall, FBA.

Leeuwenhoek and the World’s Population

The History of Science Centre’s blog at the Royal Society has an article on what is perhaps the first attempt to estimate the human population of the world:

Leeuwenhoek wrote: “If we assume that the inhabited part of the earth is as densely populated as Holland [which then had a population of perhaps one million people]… the inhabited earth being 13,385 times larger than Holland yields . . . 13,385,000,000 human beings on the earth” In the 20th century much larger and much smaller estimates of how many people the Earth can support were offered, Cohen remarked – all of them based, like Leeuwenhoek’s, on incomplete data and questionable assumptions.

Read the complete article at The twelve billion lives of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

First Published Microscopy Article?

Before Hooke published his Micrographia (1665), and before Leeuwenhoek’s first letter to the Royal Society (1673), others had published on microscopy. The OU History of Science Collections has documented two more early users of the microscope. They were contemporaries of Galileo  – fellow members of the Academy of the Lynx-Eyed – and they produced a document called the Apiarium:

The Apiarium (Rome, 1625) was a gift of the Lynx to the new pope. Galileo adapted the telescope into a new instrument, named a microscope by a member of the Lynx. In the Apiarium, the first publication of observations made with a microscope, Federico Cesi (1585-1630) and Francesco Stelluti (1577-1651) studied the anatomy of the bee.

Learn more about this document and find further links in the article: Earliest published microscopic study.

(Image from OU History of Science: Apiarium)

Free at the Royal Society

Once more, The Royal Society is opening its digital archives to all:

The Royal Society Digital Journal Archive

To celebrate a summer of science and the launch of See Further: the Festival of Science and Arts we are pleased to announce that the Royal Society Digital Journal Archive will be freely available to view until 30 July 2010. Our archive dates back to 1665 and contains in excess of 68,000 articles, from the first ever article published in our oldest journal Philosophical Transactions to the most recent interdisciplinary article published in our youngest journal Interface Focus.

Access our archive today and remember that all articles are completely free to access until 30 July 2010.

If you have an interest in science and the history of science, be sure to search through all the free content! For example, searching ‘Leeuwenhoek’ and ‘flea’ turned up this document:

In regards to the flea, this document describes how “…there came to Englifh Gentleman to my Houfe who askt me some Queftions about the Sting of a Flea…” He could not enlighten them at the time, but he soon obtained a specimen of a flea from which he desired to dissect the heart. He noticed that with the forelegs of the flea removed, he could see the mouthparts more clearly, so he examined them with his microscope, “…by

Leeuwenhoek had “his painter” draw the mouthparts, and that image is available as well, alongside the detailed drawings of what he had observed about the spleen. We can share Leeuwenhoek’s excitement as he observes the intricacies of this tiny creature, and he ends his observations with the comment:

“But then if we remove our Thoughts to those Animalcula that many millions smaller than a Flea, and consider also their respective Instruments for motion, etc. we cannot be but exceedingly amazed at the thoughts thereof. “

At that time, Leeuwenhoek was perhaps the only man on earth capable of imagining the working structures of lifeforms that were many times smaller than the mouthparts of a flea.

Leeuwenhoek’s Yeast

Nanne Nanninga has written an essay for Small Things Considered. In his article, Did van Leeuwenhoek Observe Yeast Cells in 1680?, Prof. Nanninga examines the earliest description of yeast:

It is common knowledge that beer was produced by the ancient Egyptians and that van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) was the first to see yeast cells. However, what was defined as yeast in the seventeenth century is different from that of today. So did van Leeuwenhoek really observe yeast? In attempting to answer this question it might be helpful to describe some fundamental work on yeast by Charles Cagnard-Latour (1777-1859) published in 1838. (Recall that the cell theory dates from 1839). This tells us of the beer brewing and wine making state of the art around that time. It was known that the addition of yeast to properly treated grains of cereals would produce alcohol and carbon dioxide from the extracted malt sugars. In the times of van Leeuwenhoek yeast was considered an inanimate paste with no connection to living cells. What did Cagnard-Latour see? It is important to use the term “see” because, as he emphasized, he wished to approach yeast research in a new way, that is, by employing a microscope. (This approach was also followed by F. T. Kützig and Th. A. Schwann at the same time.)

Read the complete article at Small Things Considered.

For more information: