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Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek: First to See…

Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek: First to See Microscopic Life (Great Minds of…

by Lisa Yount

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So there's this story, that my microbiology professor once told about Leeuwenhoek. He was the first real master of microscopy. Others had invented the microscope, others had used them to examine biological specimens, but then Leeuwenhoek came along and made better microscopes, made better observations, more observations, by orders of magnitude. Far surpassed any other work in the area before him and for decades after him. One of the discoveries he is most famous for is describing the "animalcules" living in the plaque on people's teeth.

The story that my professor told is that Leeuwenhoek was horrified to see what was living on his teeth, and after noticing that there were fewer living beasts after he drank coffee or tea, he took to drinking it hotter and hotter, until eventually the scalding liquid weakened his gums and he lost all his teeth.

It's a great story. And as we were working to land a grant for an exhibit about teeth and the mouth at Impression 5, I found myself telling the story at work. Until, as I was telling the story to two of the managers, it suddenly struck me that this story was possibly way too good to be actually true. So I started a quest to verify it. There was depressingly little on the internet, so I looked for books, and those were impossible as well! The only thing I could find an actual copy of was this, part of a series of scientist biographies that seem to be written for elementary school libraries. And no, I'm not judging. I couldn't put it down. Literally. I read most of this book on the walk to work despite the spectacle of walking around with a book clearly written for grade schoolers. And I don't care, because this book was awesome. For weeks I was insufferable, telling absolutely everyone the story of Leeuwenhoek and his microscopes. So much so that I spent some serious time considering looking harder for a "grown-up" biography, and if I couldn't find one WRITING MY OWN. Yeah. Anyone want to float me a contract on spec?

(And no, the "old toothless" story was not in this book. But this is a book for kids -- so I still consider the story neither confirmed nor denied.) ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
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A biography of the cloth merchant-turned-scientist who made many discoveries examining microsopic life.

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