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Leeuwenhoek, Antony van

ground blood lenses microscopist

[layvenhook] (1632–1723) Dutch microscopist: observed blood corpuscles, protozoa, bacteria and spermatozoa.

Leeuwenhoek had no formal training in science and rather limited schooling. Apprenticed to a draper, he later had his own shop in Delft and a paid post in local government. He became an enthusiastic user of microscopes. The compound microscope was in use before 1650 but was optically poor, and Leeuwenhoek preferred to use a small single lens, doubly convex and of very short focus (1–3 mm). He ground these himself and mounted them between metal plates; in all he made some hundreds of these magnifiers. He was a passionate microscopist, ingenious, secretive and with the advantage of having very unusual eyesight, so that he could use magnifications of 50× to 200× with his ultra-small lenses (possibly he used a second lens, as an eyepiece). He also used ‘a secret method’, which may have been dark-ground illumination, or the enclosure of his specimens in a drop of liquid in some cases. His results were mostly sent to the Royal Society in illustrated letters (375 of them); unsystematic, enthusiastic and written in Nether-Dutch, and his fame attracted visits by other microscopists and even royalty.

He was the discoverer or an early observer of blood capillaries, red blood cells, protozoa, bacteria (in 1683), rotifers, Hydra, Volvox and spermatozoa (of dog). He was opposed to the idea of spontaneous generation, which was not disproved until work a century and a half later. He ground 419 lenses and lived, actively researching, to age 90.

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