Look out for We, Beasties…

A new blog called We, Beasties is joining ScienceBlogs. It is run by Kevin Bonham who is in the immunology program at Harvard. He and other contributors will be covering the diverse world of microbes, and he pays tribute to Leeuwenhoek in his first post today:

In 1674, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek pointed a microscope at pond water and saw what he called “wee beasties” flitting about, kicking off the field of microbiology. Since then, scientists have discovered microorganisms living just about everywhere, in every kind of environment, from the crushing depths of the ocean in hydrothermal vents to the crypts of our own intestines.

Go to We, Beasties for more on microbes.

London Dreaming…

The Linnean Society, The Royal Geographic Society, The Royal Geological Society, The Natural History Museum…

The Royal Society is hosting a series of free lunch time lectures on the history of science. On October 29 at 1:00 PM they are featuring Professor Brian J. Ford, an expert on the history of microscopy:

The birth of microscopy is here shown to be very different from the traditional view. Standard texts inform us that pioneers, like Hooke, used compound microscopes to investigate the microscopic world. Yet there is a paradox: the fine images in works like Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) include details that contemporaneous compound microscopes could not resolve.

The single lensed (=simple) microscope has been dismissed as a crude instrument of limited capacity, and recent demonstrations on television have confirmed this view. Today we shall discover that remarkably clear images were obtained by lenses of diminutive size (often no larger than the head of a pin). The work of Hooke, Leeuwenhoek and Robert Brown is re-examined, and their remarkable results are now reconciled with the technical capacity of the instruments they used in their investigations.

See the Royal Society Events Diary for more on the lunchtime  lectures.

Wish I could be there…

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.

The 2010 Leeuwenhoek Lecture Prize

Robert  Webster, FRS.
Robert Webster, FRS.

The triennial Leeuwenhoek Lecture Prize has been awarded to Professor Robert Webster FRS, of the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, USA. The prize was established to recognise excellence in the field of microbiology which now includes excellence in bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology and microscopy.

The lecture synopsis from The Royal Society:

Where do the pandemic influenza viruses come from and why did experts fail to predict the severity of the 2009 pandemic? When the virus was characterised as an H1N1 influenza virus related to the 1918 Spanish influenza virus that killed between 20-40 million people globally, the possibility existed for a similar catastrophe. However to date, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza has been much less severe than the 1918 Spanish influenza.

The success factors with influenza are the availability of anti-influenza drugs and improved vaccines. Was the stockpiling of drugs and vaccines a waste of resources? The lesson learned is that influenza viruses will continue to humble scientists; while predicting which influenza viruses will acquire pandemic potential in humans is unlikely, surveillance in healthy pigs may provide early warning. It is probable that in the future, predictions on the severity of a pandemic will be possible.

It is likely that influenza will continue to ‘cuckoo’ the experts.

Professor Robert Webster FRS established  the Center of Excellence programme for Influenza Research and Surveillance  at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, USA, where he is also a Professor in the Division of Virology; Department of Infectious Diseases.