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Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

Scientist Andrew Parker explains why the 17th-century draper and keen microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek is his Natural History Hero.

The development of the microscope unlocked the tiny and enchanting world of microorganisms. Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a draper with an interest in the natural world spent 50 years making his own lenses and developing unique techniques to light and view his subjects. Leeuwenhoek's descriptions of the movements and appearance of the organisms he observed, some of which he scraped from his teeth, are remarkably accurate given that the single lens he viewed them through was tiny itself - only 1mm in diameter. He was the first person to see a red blood corpuscle, bacteria and sperm. His observations led to the conclusion that fertilisation occurred at the point that an individual sperm cell penetrates the egg. With lenses that were almost microscopic in size themselves Leeuwenhoek opened up a miniature world captivating and disturbing the public in equal measure. Scientist Andrew Parker explains why the father of microbiology is his Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

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15 minutes

Last on

Tue 30 Aug 2016 09:30

Professor Andrew Parker

Professor Andrew Parker
Professor Andrew Parker is a Research Leader at the Natural History Museum. His main research involves biomimetics - learning from nature to improve industrial products and businesses. At the Museum he specialises in colour, particularly structural colour, and water management surfaces in nature.

He is also interested in the origin and evolution of vision and visual systems.

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek
Portrait of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek painted by Jan_Verkolje. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek is considered the father of microbiology, using his tiny lenses to open up the microscopic world.

Van Leeuwenhoek's microscope

Van Leeuwenhoek's microscope
Van Leeuwenhoek made his unique lenses by a variety of methods and mounted them between two plates of metal. Most of the microscopes made by van Leeuwenhoek have been lost. This replica was made for the Royal Society.

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