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Biographical Information

Name: Robert Hooke
Born on 18 July 1635 in , Isle of Wight, South East England, England, United Kingdom, Europe
Deceased on 3 March 1703 in , London, England, United Kingdom, Europe

Short biography of Robert Hooke

After the death of his father, the 13-year-old Hooke was educated by the painter Peter Lely and attended Westminster School in London, where he studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew and the mathematical works of Euclid. In 1653 he went to Christ Church College in Oxford as a servant in order to pay for his scholarship by carrying out duties for more wealthy students. Hooke left the College in 1662 with a Master of Arts degree. One year later he was elected a member of the Royal Society and in 1665 became professor of geometry at Gresham College, where the Royal Society was holding its weekly meetings at that time. This illustrious circle dedicated to Francis Bacon’s (1561–1626) concept of inductive sciences was made up of England’s leading natural science researchers: John Wilkins, Thomas Willis, Seth Ward, William Petty, John Wallis, Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle and others. However, Hooke’s pioneering achievements in almost all areas of natural science and technology (he invented the microscope) were founded methodically on the idea of formulating a hypothesis which was then proved right or wrong through experimentation. For example, from 1662 to 1664 he investigated the strength of timber beams and metal wires in order to verify Galileo’s hypotheses [Galilei, 1638], but achieved little in the way of conclusive results. On the other hand, in 1675 Hooke was able to formulate verbally the form of the catenary arch [Hooke, 1675]. In his diary entry for 5 May 1675, Hooke notes, with a critical undertone, that his friend Wren had arranged for his masonry arch principles to be used to modify the design of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral [Addis, 2002/1, p. 337]. Considerably more important for the strength of materials in the orientation phase of structural theory was the formulation and experimental verification of the theory of springs and springy bodies, later known as Hooke’s law of elasticity [Hooke, 1678], which in historical terms could not unfold its logical potential until the discipline-formation period of elastic theory and structural theory. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Hooke was involved in the rebuilding of the city; Bill Addis has been able to uncover a number of structures on which Hooke supplied the architectural input [Addis, 2002, pp. 336–37]. In terms of his social life, Hooke was regarded as a difficult person who always felt cheated (priority disputes with Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens), mistrusted others and, having become cynical and bitter, elected to spend his final years in solitude. “Hooke was a difficult man in an age of difficult men” [Westfall, 1972, p. 487]. He died in the room at Gresham College in which he had lived for 37 years.

Main contributions to structural analysis:

A description of helioscopes, and some other instruments [1675]; Lectures de potentia restitutiva, or of spring explaining the power of springing bodies [1678] 

Source: Kurrer, Karl-Eugen The History of the Theory of Structures, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland), ISBN 3-433-01838-3, 2008; p. 737/738

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  • About this
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  • Person-ID
    1009828
  • Published on:
    13/08/2013
  • Last updated on:
    22/07/2014