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Brit found dead at Spanish airport had ‘slice of ham on each buttock and his genitals in tuna can’

leeuwenhoek

Yes, it’s a real headline. No, I have no idea. Nobody has.

Now that I have your attention, I’d like to talk about something else. Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 384th birthday of Anton von Leeuwenhoek. Unlike most Google doodles that promote obscure scientists I never heard of, von Leeuwenhoek is an obscure scientist who is a great hero of mine.

Because microscopes. Von Leeuwenhoek was the first great miscroscopist and one of the greatest ever amateur scientists (I used to be big time into microscopy. And amateurishness). He was a Dutchman who owned a draper’s shop and later worked a series of civil service jobs. Microscopes were a hobby.

But he made fantastic microscopes that no-one of his era could match. Hundreds of them using a process he refused to divulge. Everyone else was grinding and polishing bits of glass for hours and assumed he did, too. In fact (I’ve forgotten where I read this, I’ve read so much about him over the years) he dripped molten glass into water, which formed optically perfect spheres with no mechanical finishing at all. Genius.

He was the first human being to see lots of neat things: protozoa. Bacteria. Tooth plaque. Sperm. Yeah, he got those last two samples exactly the way you think he did.

In 1926, a man named Paul de Kruif (an American of Dutch ancestry) wrote a book called the Microbe Hunters that has never since gone out of print. It takes microbiology from von Leeuwenhoek to Paul Ehrlich. It was a breathlessly enthusiastic not at all nuanced ‘Hooray for Science!’ book of the kind that inspired thousands of young scientists, and that educators can’t abide these days.

I loved it. Buy it for a kid.

Shame about that poor bastard in the Spanish airport, though, huh?

sock it to me

October 24, 2016 — 7:02 pm
Comments: 19