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4th July 2003

The Face of Robert Hooke

Professor Lisa Jardine is writing a biography on Robert Hooke - and in the process has stumbled on what she believes is the only portrait of the great man.


Robert Hooke was one of Isaac Newton's contemporaries - perhaps less well known than the man who discovered gravity,but he was an extraordinarily inventive and prolific scientist. The 300th anniversary of his death is being marked by an art competition - the entries are now on display at the Royal Society in London.

Hooke had an international reputation in science and whose diverse occupations and determined personality made him known throughout society in 17th century London, was forgotten shortly after this death (at which time all his portraits were destroyed by Newton's supporters and even his remains have been lost). Now, 300 years later, renewed interest in him throughout the world will be demonstrated at this conference as his astonishing insights are revealed.

Conference organiser, Professor Michael Cooper, Emeritus Professor at City University, comments: ‘The recovery of Hooke from the shadows, particularly from those of his enemy Isaac Newton and his friend Christopher Wren, is a theme running through the conference. The former denied many of Hooke’s contributions and did all that he could to obliterate them from history, while the latter received credit for much of Hooke’s work.’

Hooke’s relationship with his famous contemporaries will be one theme reviewed at the conference. Newton’s denial of the importance of Hooke’s contribution to his understanding of planetary motion and gravitation will be illustrated in a keynote paper to be delivered by Michael Nauenberg, University of California. Jacques Heyman, Cambridge University, will describe the nature of Wren and Hooke’s partnership in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, a cooperation that was denied not by Wren, but by his descendants who chose not to mention Hooke’s role in rebuilding an almost completely destroyed London.

At the conference, Hooke’s continued importance to modern-day science will be considered by Douwe Draaisma, University of Groningen, who describes Hooke’s ideas on memory which are being brought forward again by psychologists and Peter Dick, Historical Diving Society, shows how Hooke’s ideas and early diving machines formed the basis of today’s diving equipment.

Further papers will look at his work, theories and social status. Alan Mills, University of Leicester will demonstrate a working component of one of his astronomical devices which, it has been claimed could not be worked Ellen Tan Drake, Oregon State University, will show how his views on geology and evolution were far ahead of his time.

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