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Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch tradesman, and scientist who developed a fascination for the microscope at a very young age.

He was born on the 24th of October 1632 in Holland to a basket maker and his wife.

He studied until about 16 years and then left his hometown to work train under a linen draper.

With the training he received, he came back and started his own drapery business in 1654, at the age of 22 years.

During his training, he had to examine the quality of cloths under microscopic lenses that were able to increase the size of the picture of the cloth three times over.

He soon started examining not just specimens of cloth but also insects and fingerprints.

His interests in lenses lead him to grind and make his own, but his main problem was that the three times magnifications were not powerful enough for him.

He invented lenses, which were up to 300 times powerful, and he started examining everything he could find under their great magnification skill.

He examined lake water, which lead him to discover that tiny creatures living in the water changed it from murky during summer to clear during winter.

Leeuwenhoek was also able to observe the fine blood vessels of rabbits’ ears, bats’ wings, and tadpoles’ tails.

He mixed plaque from his own teeth with water, examined the sample under the microscope, and noticed “many very little living animalcules”.

These little creatures are called “bacteria” today. He also found that they died when he drank hot coffee.

His observations of red blood cells, bacteria and other living organisms, and microbes are details in his letters to Europe’s scientific societies and in books.

Many people did not trust Leeuwenhoek’s reports at first, because it seemed so hard to believe that these things could actually exist.

But in 1673 the Royal Society of London sent in an observer to see if Leeuwenhoek’s work was actually true and his report confirmed that it indeed was.

After that, his discoveries became famous and trusted that even the Queen of England and the Czar of Russia stopped by his lab to have a look.

His extraordinary work of creating powerful lenses so that microscopic organisms and matter could be studied paved the way for improvements in biology, zoology and medicine.

For a great many years, after he invented his powerful microscopes he kept his method a secret from the world.

It was only in 1957 that a scientist was able to create a copy of Leeuwenhoek’s microscope.

Strangely, Leeuwenhoek passed away on the 30th of August 1723, from a disease he himself had described in his academic letters to the Royal Society.

This disease, now called the "Van Leeuwenhoek's Disease", is a rare uncontrollable movement of the middle part of the body (stomach area).