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Biography On Anton Van Leeuwenhoek History Essay


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Human life is abundant of the deepest perspective towards the minutest aspects. Some of these are the result of our instinctive origination while the remainders owe their majority to Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, the man to whom the world looked as the individual who grafted the preference for minuscule details into our conscience. For those who are privy of his whereabouts, need no mentioning, and for those who are oblivious, it would be just to say that today's Microbiology would be an impossibility if it has not been accounted to his contributions.

Born in a Dutch family based in Deft, Leeuwenhoek grew up to walk in the dual steps of a tradesman and scientist, who was best designated as "The Father of Microbiology". He was also considered as the first microbiologist, and through his indulgence in the improvement of the microscope, he ensured a proper establishment of Microbiology as an essential cog of science. Because of his valiant hardship, we have been able to savor ourselves through some exceptional microbiological technologies that hold prominence in both educational and medicinal applications. Animacules or microorganisms, as we refer to them today was the term that he coined to those single-celled organisms that he first observed and described using his handcrafted microscopes. Leeuwenhoek was also the first to document minuscule examination of muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, and most essential, the flow of blood in capillaries.

If put concisely then Leeuwenhoek was one of those rare contributors, in the dearth of whom we would be still breathing in medieval period.


The history subscribed to one of the most influential phenomena when Anton Van Leeuwenhoek was born on Oct. 24, 1632, in a decent Dutch family that was based in Delft, a modest town of the nation of Netherlands. His father was a basket-maker, while his mother belonged to a family of brewers.

His parents, who seemed to be quite conservative in their approach preferred to further his education informally. His subjects comprised of mathematics and physical science, but languages missed the companionship of his educational endeavors, and this probably explains Dutch being his only lingual acquaintance.

Despite of the decency of his familial background, Leeuwenhoek had to leave his education in between and at the callous age of 16, he was sent to Amsterdam, to become an apprentice at a linendraper's shop. There, he familiarized himself with the peculiar aspects of the profession and employed six years of his invaluable youth in gaining its expertise. However, soon his craving for the innovativeness dimmed the light of his apprenticeship, and he left his prevalent profession to search for what truly inspired his desires.

Around 1654, Leeuwenhoek registered his return to the hometown of Delft and in an auspicious event, he communed himself in a marital relationship with Barbara De May. She bore him five children. The bond of marriage brought mandatory responsibilities on Van's shoulders and for its proper execution; he bought a house and a shop and established himself in the business as a draper.

For the substantial number of years linen draping seemed to be the only profession that fortified his indulgence in any commercial prospect to an extent that at one point it appeared that the draper would be his social attire for the rest of his life, which could have introduced a drastic paragraph in the pages of the history. Then, in the year of 1660, he was appointed Chamberlin to the sheriffs of Delft. It was a post that he held for about thirty-nine years.

For the next thirteen years the identity of Chamberlin elucidated Leeuwenhoek's professional front and the rest of his activities were concealed by the obliviousness. However, he must have developed the habit of grinding lenses to employ them in the construction of simple microscope. The event that solidified the existence of his interest occurred in the year 1668 when he journeyed to England in the companionship of one of his microscopes. He used it to examine chalk from the cliffs of Kent.

At that time, Leeuwenhoek lacked any sort of professionalism in the field of microscopy, and was unprepared to describe any logical conclusions. Vigilant observation, cautious documentation and the prevention of hasty conclusions were the essentials of his concept. His was a firm believer in the fact that each and every entity that dwells on this earth, be it living or non-living, is worth researching; it could be anything like a drop of rain, pepper-water, seeds, wooden bark, skin, open wounds and other bodily contributors, a beetle colliding against a window, or something as simple as an itch on his skin. He was equally allured by the hypothesis formulated by the likes of Jan Swammerdam, Christian Huygens, Boerhave and Harvey. Leeuwenhoek was the first to monitor the parasite Anisakis in the Hering. He also warned Hendrik about the worms in a fresh Hering, in a letter that he sent to him; he wrote: "Wormkens in de holligheit van de buyk van de haring."

Leeuwenhoek was also the foremost person to discover that the composition of a living cell accounts to 80% water, and was the discoverer of the technique of microdissections on insects. This procedure enabled him to become a recipient of remarkable outcomes that overshadowed the modern standards that were in fashion in that particular time. Leeuwenhoek should be credited with the foundation of forensic microscopy, and it was a sheer luck for us that despite of the lack of accepted professionalism, he believed in a thorough procedural observation, and only after the decisive verification, he published his findings. He examined everything, ranging from biological specimens to mineral objects. He even performed an experiment with the gunpowder compound and provided a valuable suggestion to the French chief-commander to shorten the barrel in order to approach maximum effect.

Leeuwenhoek had a friendly and polite character, and he spoke with empathy and compassion about his fellow-men and ill people and visited them. His regular acquaintances were the lepers in a leper-hospital that was bricked in the city of Haarlem. However this account arose some contradictions, as it does not match to the view of some authors who consider him as the owner of ascetic character.


Just like in a room draped in darkness, a brief speck of light is enough to enlighten an object of curiosity. The miniscule visual manifestation that Leeuwenhoek assembled from the sample of the chalk embarked his intellect, which in turn resulted in an autonomous gradation from curiosity to adamant passion. Soon, he devoted himself to the manufacturing of the microscopes and savored their aid in registering the detailed structure of the minute organisms, and it is a belief that the origination of his curiosity dated back to 1665 when he read Micrographia*, a brilliant work published by Robert Hooke. It is believed that it was this work that had probably stimulated his adamant interest in the world of minuscule.

[*Note: It is a historical account documented by Robert Hooke that comprised of thirty-years long observation that he performed through various lenses. The book was published in the auspicious month of September 1665, which was the Royal Society's first key publication, and was the first scientific best-seller that inspired a wide public interest in the field of microscopy. It is also noteworthy for coining the biological jargon, cell.]

Nurturing his interest like a gardener nurtures his plants, Leeuwenhoek dwelled deeper into the construction of microscopes, and it was during this period that he found the use of single lenses of very short focal length preferable than the compound microscopes that were processed back then; and the brilliance of the discoveries that he made using these back their reliabilities. Nonetheless, his resilience and austerity enhanced his observational skills and when the autumn applauded the arrival of the year 1673 through a progressive intensity, Van's attempts paid off via Regnier De Graff.

Graaf, was a brilliant young physician of Delft, who accidentally acquainted himself with the discoveries made by Leeuwenhoek and in a favourable swirl of fate, his discoveries generated an immaculate impression on the former one to an extent that he wrote a letter about the latter's works to Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society in London. This letter was published in Philosophical Transactions, and Oldenburg wrote to the author requesting further communications.

Graaf's initiative brought the microbiologist under Oldenburg's merger attention that in turn resulted in the former writing a letter to the Royal Society*. His first letter contained some observations on the stings of bees. However, he never wrote an authentic scientific paper. The explanation of his discoveries was a scramble of letters written in Low Dutch that sometimes were objectionable by some society members.

[*Note: The Royal Society was an organization formed in 1662 under a royal charter granted by Charles II. Devoted to register fresh technological developments in the field of science, the society's aim was to facilitate the scientists in achieving their goals.]

The initiators and perhaps the earliest members of the Royal Society who were also the designers of modern English Speculative Freemasonry, included prominent intellectuals from the "invisible college" as William Viscount Brouncker, Robert Moray, Robert Boyle, William Petty, John Wilkins, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Elias, Ashmole and Isaac Newton. Although a direct evidence regarding to his early indulgence in the society is missing, the accumulation of the substantial number of clues indicate towards his lineage with a Vrijmetselaar or with the inspiration originating from Masonic attitudes.

As it is believed that the superficiality certifies the outcome of one's intellectuality. Such occurred with Leeuwenhoek in the initial period of his relationship with the Royal Society. It was a probability that the organizational constitution of his papers would have biased the members' minds who preferred a more mannered approach to the detailing. In a probable consequence, they challenged the existence of such minute organisms as his animalcules and waived the possibility of the authenticity of such idea.

Leeuwenhoek, who attired generosity in the beginning, soon became wearied of it and he presented the society with the thorough account of his methodical approach in estimating their sizes through their diametrical comparison to the objects that fell under the direct measurable dimensions. Through the implication of rational computations, he predicted their volumes from their perceptible diameters. Through the illustrational cohesion of his subjects and the spherical and objects he simplified his explanation for the members to understand. He depicted the possibility of the existence of literally a million microbes in the volume that equals a grain of sand. By progressively comparing objects of decreasing size with one another, he proved for example that protozoan cilia are thousands-fold smaller than a human hair.

Even though the successful exhibition of the protozoan cell, the society still attired doubt around itself, so it wrote a letter and wished its interest in renting his microscope for a span of few days. However, Leeuwenhoek, who until now had developed a inseparable adoration towards his instrument denied its handover, even if it was transitory in nature. The members were privy that until and unless a proper inspection would continue to facilitate its share of obliviousness, substantiation would not be possible. Therefore, in order to arrive to a judgement, they appointed two scientists- Nehemiah Grew and Robert Hooke to validate the credibility of his experiments.

Credited with the new responsibility by the society, both the men initiated a serious attempt to corroborate Leeuwenhoek's observations. Their initial effort acquainted them to failure, which put his report under doubtful perspective. However, Hooke, who was adamant in his attitude, despite of the ambiguity, found a faint credibility in the microbiologist's study. He again tried using a microscope with 330 X (power of magnification). The results that second trial generated, brought a smile on his face, and confirmed Leeuwenhoek's success. Both the scientists reported the resultant similarity in their observations and to those that Leeuwenhoek explained in his letters.

The society, despite of its scepticism, accepted Leeuwenhoek's claims, and in the same year Graaf sent them a letter, they conveyed a delegation to Delft. Their words relayed reluctance and showed an inclination towards a forceful methodical acceptance, but their rave report confirmed Van's declaration.

Just like in the morning, a drop of dew enhances the beauty of the leaf it perches; in the same way the remarkable authentication of the microbiologist's claims generated immaculate allurement over substantial number of prominent figures around Europe, which included even the Future Queen Anne of England and Tsar Pytor I of Russia. They failed in keeping themselves away from witnessing the demonstration of his marvels. His fame soon ensured his undeviating place in the history of science and a few years later he was elected to full membership in the society. However, his attendance to the organization's meeting registered absence, and did his signature on the society's membership catalogue.

Leeuwenhoek's correspondence with the Royal Society was initiated through a series of letters that he wrote in Dutch, which then were translated into English or Latin and included in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. They were often reprinted separately. His entire observations were explained in letters that numbered to at least two hundred. They were addressed either to the society or to his friends.

Leeuwenhoek's letters comprised of random observations with little coherence that were written in an informal style. However, despite of the casualness that the description of his observations attired, he avoided the fusion of the facts with his speculations that could otherwise lead to confusion. His vigilance resulted in the effortless identification of numerous organisms that he described in his catalogue.

To give some of the flavor of his discoveries, we present extracts from his observations, together with modern pictures of the organisms that Leeuwenhoek saw.

An amusing facet to add in Anton's life is that he considered his own artistic skills capable enough to execute the vital task of illustrating his findings. Therefore, for almost all the instances, he hired limners* to commence that short of work.

[Note*: Originated illuminators, i.e. artists and engravers that we now know as illustrators or commercial artists.]


Just like a musician without his instruments or a painter without his brushes are mere statistical puppets in the pages of history, in the same way an introduction to Leeuwenhoek without mentioning the medium of his genius would be just like a pizza served without any toppings.

The number and quality of Leeuwenhoek's mikroskoops (as they were known back then) and the ones that survived share ambiguous certainty. However, through a mutual agreement it can be said that he constructed at least several hundred of them, out of which about two hundred and fifty were complete. Amongst those most of them included a mounted specimen and also about two hundred mounted lenses.


Leeuwenhoek's microscopes were simple magnifying glasses comprised of single spherical or biconvex lens that were mounted amidst two copper, brass or silver plates. The size of the plates matched the modern microscopic slides, i.e. about 1/3 inches. The object that was subjected to the examination was raised, lowered, or rotated by threaded screws attached to the plate. His device also included one of the first mechanical micromanipulation systems. However, Hooke had already accomplished this with a touch of differentiation. It was a possibility that Leeuwenhoek must have understood early that the shallow depth of field of strong microscopic lenses had ruled out focusing on microorganisms by hand. Like modern objective lenses, his lenses were extremely small with short focal lengths of 1-2 millimeters. There was requirement with the lenses; it was a need to consign them close to the eyes, and adequate practice and good eyesight were mandatory factors for their usage. The plates were carved up to provide adequate grasp between the eyebrow and cheek like a jeweller's monocle loupe. Following a standard scientific procedure, the plates were held in a horizontal position with the threaded stem used as a handle peeping away from the nose.

Estimates of microscopes' magnifying power vary from about 200 to 500 diameters, and if the higher number is true then he had achieved about a third or even a half of the highest magnification possible with visible light! The sizes of the objects that he mentioned in his reports and the finesse that attired the detailing of his drawings do bear out their astonishing optical precision and to Anton's own skills as one of the very first microscopists in history.


According to the numerous references in many accounts of Leeuwenhoek's work consider him as an inventor of microscopes. However, he did not invent his single-lens microscope. It is Robert Hooke's "Micrographia", which illustrates the conjectural benefit of using minimal possible number of lenses. Hooke also provided a detailed description of the process of the creation of small round lenses that involved the drawing and fusion of fine glass whiskers into tiny spheres. His technique included the fixing of multiple spheres to a sheet of wax for simultaneous pulverization and polishing of the attachment sites of the whiskers. His methodical approach reveals his practical experience in the construction of such lenses. He even explained the process of mounting a tiny single-lens on a needle-hole perforated through a thin metal plate, which was in exact resemblance with Van Leeuwenhoek microscope.

Hooke presumed them to be the superior microscopes, but the annoying twirl of fate introduced him to a mordant outcome when the difficulty of their usage surfaced due to the need of holding them close to the eye. But as it is said that it is the life's excruciating experiences that account to the learning of survival, such occurrence encouraged him to add an extra lens near the eye. This modification gave birth to the compound microscope and the lens is known as the eyepiece lens. Hooke's indulgement with the microscope shows the possibility of Van Leeuwenhoek picking up his design from Hooke, and therefore an speculation can be drawn that the later one is better viewed as a discoverer rather than as an inventor.

Even though we are to be believed, that Leeuwenhoek was the one who used to ground his lenses, but the fact is that its authenticity will always lurk behind ambiguity. His unvarying dissembling that an exceptional requirement of time, skill and effort were coherent ingredients of his construction method, is consistent with his common unwillingness to teach or encourage competitors. In the dearth of direct evidence, it can at least be speculated that he actually copied Hooke's procedure and fabricated lenses by pulling and fusing spherical globules with smoother planes than he could ever have accomplished by grinding.

Once, a German sojourner Zacharias Konrad Zetloch Von Uffenbach gave a long visit to Van Leeuwenhoek who chivalrously entertained him with countless wonders. However, instead of expressing his gratitude, the former one ungraciously wrote in memoir:

"When we further inquired of Herr Leeuwenhoek whether he ground all his lenses, and did not blow any? He denied this, but displayed great contempt for the blown glasses. He pointed out to us how thin his microscopia were, compared with others (This phrase seems to indicate that one man or the other had seen instruments of like construction that may have predated Antonj's own. - ed.), and how close together the laminae were between which the lens lay, so that no spherical glass could be thus mounted; all his lenses being ground, contrariwise, convex on both sides. As regards the blown glasses, Herr Leeuwenhoek assured us that he had succeeded, after ten years' speculation, in learning how to blow a serviceable kind of glasses which were not round. My brother was unwilling to believe this, but took it for a Dutch joke (a snide German euphemism for a lie - ed.); since it is impossible, by blowing, to form anything but a sphere, or rounded end." - von Uffenbach, 1710.

Despite of the nature of Uffenbach's excerpt, the inducement of too much effort of the individual grinding of each lens is undeniable in comparison to the ones that are fabricated in a span of one of two minutes via a spirit lamp and a blowpipe. In a sharp contrast to the modern method, which governs the usage of a single microscope and numerous disposable slides fixed placed on a fixed or moveable stage, Leeuwenhoek was in a habit of building a new microscope for separate captivating specimen. He considered the complete instruments as permanent settings for his choicest specimens, which is why it can be speculated that he might have built hundreds of them.

Due the secrecy that Leeuwenhoek maintains in his methods, the predictability of his works always share ambiguity; for an example, it is still unclear that how he obtained the necessary illumination to achieve his remarkable results. Clifford Dobell suggested that he might have discovered some simple method of dark-ground illumination, whereas Barnett Cohen contradictorily stated that Van Leeuwenhoek might have exploited the optical properties of spherical drops of fluid containing the objects under observation.


Leeuwenhoek through his resilient genius gave the field of Microbiology numerous discoveries that provided the foothold of which it boasts today. His researches in the life history of the lower forms of animal life directly counteracted the accepted principle that they are a result of spontaneous regeneration or bred from corruption. He also showed that the weevils of granaries that in his times were commonly assumed to be bred from wheat, are grubs hatched from eggs deposited by winged insects. In his chapter on the flea, he not only provided a detailed description on his structure, but also traced out the whole history of its metamorphoses from its first emergence from the egg to the adulthood. Even today, if we perform a thorough observation of its growth process, we will find it extremely captivating.

It is owed not so much for the precision of his observation, as for its incidental disclosure of the extraordinary unawareness that was in existence back then in regard to the origin and propagation of this minuscule and despised creature, which some affirmed to be generated from sand, others from dust, others from the dung of pigeon and others from urine, but which he demonstrated to be "gifted with as great excellence in its kind as any large animal", and proved to breed in the regular way of winged insects. He even made the note of the fact that the pupa of the flea is sometimes attacked and fed upon by a mite. This very particular observation suggested the well-known lines of Jonathan Swift.

Being drawn to the blighting of the young shoots of fruit trees that was generally attributed the ants found upon them, Leeuwenhoek was the first to find the Aphides, the ones responsible for the ailment. He then made a thorough investigation in the history of their generation and observed the young existing in the bodies of their parents. He also did a vigilant study of the history of the ant and was the first to reveal that the commonly supposed ant eggs are really their pupae, holding the perfect insect nearly ready for emersion, at the same time the true eggs are far smaller, and give origin to maggots or larvae.

He also provided a detailed explanation of another fact that sea mussel and other shellfish are not generated out of the mud or sand found on the seashore or the beds of rivers at low water, but from spawn through the regular course of generation. This way he successfully counteracted to the defense of Aristotle's doctrine put forward by F. Buonanni, a learned Jesuit of Rome. He maintained the same in proving the authenticity of the freshwater mussel's origination. The observation that he did on their ova was so precise that he witnessed the rotation of the embryo, a phenomenon that is believed to share its part of revelation long afterwards. With an equal enthusiasm, he investigated the generation of eels, which at that time were commonly supposed to be produced from dew without the ordinary process of generation.

It is a surprise that the individuals who were a believer in it did not only comprise of ignorant, but respectable and learned men too. He not only entertained himself as the first discoverer of the rotifers, but he depicted "hoe wonderfully nature has provided for the preservation of their species", by their tolerance of the drying-up of the water they inhabit, and the resistance that they generated to the evaporation of the bodily fluids via the construction of an impermeable casing in which they then become enclosed. "We can now easily conceive", he says, "that in all rainwater which is collected from gutters in cisterns, and in all waters exposed to the air, animalcules may be found; for they may be carried thither by the particles of dust blown about by the winds."


When the summer steeped on the first step of the seasonal staircase and the year registered itself under 1974, Leeuwenhoek, through the induction of his brilliance, made an important discovery that was going to prove one of the major beneficiaries to the medical field. He provided a description of red blood cells, which was done with so much precision that he outshined his contemporaries Marcello Malpighi and Jan Swammerdam. In a fair estimation he catalogued their size, in modern terminology, 8.5 microns in diameter, the correct value is 7.7 microns.

Leeuwenhoek sent a folio of sic pages to the Royal Society, in which he wrote about the microscopy of blood, and the structure of bone, teeth, liver, and brain; and the growth of epidermis. He also delivered finely cut sections of his specimens enwrapped in four envelopes pasted to the last sheet of the letter. He prepared them by his own hands for the interest of the society. These samples present great insight into Leeuwenhoek's manual dexterity as a microtomist.

However, his talent for sample preparation got erased from the historical leaflets, partially because his later discoveries were so much dazzling that they outshone everything else. The dependency of the precision of his observation was in a direct proportion to his meticulousness that was involved in the preparation of the slice of the sample. This reflects his infinitesimal patience. Many samples were successful in surviving for three-and-a-half centuries and are still viewable under the modern microscopes, but the others were ruined by fungal growth, due to moisture, and it is impossible to study them now.

In the same year of 1674, he gave an immaculate description of the beautiful alga Spirogyra and various ciliated and flagellated protozoa that he discovered in a single vial of pond scum, which he had taken from the Berkelse Mere, a small lake near Delft. This occasion could be considered the simultaneous births of the fields of Microbiology, protozoology (now called protistology) and phycology. He also found that yeast consists of individual plant-like organisms.

Eight years later in 1682, Leeuwenhoek gave a clarified description of the nucleus within the red blood cells of fish, and in the year that followed, he perceived the sedimentation of erythrocytes from a suspension and their lysis on the addition of water. In the same year, he discovered the lymphatic capillaries and mentioned them in the description of blood capillaries in the intestine. He explained them as different capillaries containing "a white fluid, like milk".


For the next couple of years Leeuwenhoek depicted negligible accomplishment in explaining anything that could lead to the extraordinary advancement of the science of his time. His observations concerning the circulatory system of transparent tadpoles were obsolete, which only strengthened the popular notion of him following Swammerdam, Hooke and other anatomists. A time came when it seemed the Van would become only a little better than an average anatomist. Then, fate took a favourable turn of the situation when in 1676 he shifted his focus on the objects that existed in the blind corner of the anatomists. They included; cheese-rind fungi, animal sperm, bile liquid from different species of animals, crystals formed in urine, exploding gun powder, plaque that he extracted from his teeth, melted snow and a few others.

However, the turning point of his career and the one that can be related to the origination of biology occurred when he attempted to interpret black pepper, the spice that was the reason for numerous European merchants' prosperity, and an invaluable ingredient to the Dutch painters' still-life masterpieces. The cause of his curiosity was his want to understand the reason behind the sweltering hot sensation that it caused in the mouth. Thorny protrusions resembling the ones found in thistle or a nettle were the ones that touched his expectations. He presumed them as the entities that stung the tongue. However the revelation that the dry peppercorn provided when observed under his microscope, hardly matched his satisfaction. This led him to think that it is the combination with the saliva that initiates these thorns into action. Therefore, he drenched the peppercorns in sterile water, but when he looked at the soaked peppercorns, instead of burry edges, he saw miniscule entities swimming in the water.

However, that thought of those things to be some animalcules didn't appear in his mind. The examination of many types of water has grafted in him a very good understanding of water's purity, depending on the source. He had used sterile water from melted snow and covered the dish tightly so that nothing could fly from the air in the room. A couple of days later when he observed the pepper-water under his lens, he mentioned the observation something like this, "…the water is so thick with them, that you might almost imagine you were looking at the spawn of fish, when the fish discharges its roe." His comprehensive notes reveal that he witnessed the existence of bacilli in that water. His experimentation continued from the month of April to the August with pepper-water. He made a note of everything he did and saw.

Once Leeuwenhoek was done with pepper, he shifted his attention on ginger, cloves and nutmeg. He soaked them and observed under his microscope, but not to unearth the reason of their taste, he wanted to compare their animalcules with those of pepper-water. From his meticulous description of his observation of the spice waters and other diverse natural waters, it becomes apparent that he saw flagellates, ciliates, bacteria and rotifers.

Leeuwenhoek's 18th letter to the Royal Society is regarded as is most striking and immaculate account of description. It is also known as the "letter on protozoa," it consists of seventeen pages of closely written text in a neat, small handwriting. A copy of the letter was also delivered to Constantijn Huygens, Christian's father. It caused a sensation at the Royal Society's reading. From this very day on, Leeuwenhoek built on his preparation expertise and experience. He performed experiments used a wide variety of specimens, at different temperatures. He dried the samples and then attempted to reconstitute them, submerging them in different liquids (alcohol, vinegar), dispossessing them of oxygen or exposing them to higher than atmospheric pressures. In all these experiments, he showed unvarying hardship in executing a detailed observation of population numbers and relative sizes.


In the year 1677, a remarkable discovery unveiled itself in front of the world. Leeuwenhoek listed himself as the first individual to provide a thorough description of human spermatozoon. In his letter that was addressed to Lord Brounker, secretary of the Royal Society, He pointed out that he had witnessed a magnitude if "small animals" or "animalcules" He wrote; "I observed enough material coming from a sick person….but also from the healthy one, immediately after ejaculation. I had seen such a multitude of live animalcules more than a million, having the size of a grain of sand and moving in a space…those animalcules were smaller than the red blood cells. They had a round body, foam in the front, terminated in a point at the back, equipped with a tail with five to six times the body length and progressed in a snake-like motion helped by their tail."

The chronological execution of events that led to the historical discovery of human spermatozoa is invariably alluring. Once Professor Cranen after entrusting his young student, Johan Ham, sent him to Leeuwenhoek. Ham proclaimed that he had witnessed the existence of miniscule living creatures in a small quantity of semen obtained from a man suffering from gonorrhoea. The young man's proclamation allured Van for the immediate verification of this lad's observation. It became easy because the young man had brought the remainder of the person's semen in a flask.

While finishing his letter, Leeuwenhoek provided a clarified statement to the Royal Society that stated that if his observation was found repugnant or scandalous the members had every right to not to publish it. However, the circumstances showed favouritism, when Secretary Brounker encouraged him to repeat the experiments on the sperms belonging to various quadrupeds. On an auspicious date of March 18, 1678, Van informed his correspondent that he had noticed the similar animalcules in the semen of dogs and rabbits and he expect to find the same in all male animals. Scepticism arose, and for its authenticity others scientist repeated his observations. All of them backed up what Van saw. Gradually, the term "animalcule" became an inseparable ingredient of high society's amusement, who often observed them under the microscope.

In a dog's seminal fluid kept in a glass tube, he witnessed that after seven days of their compilation, spermatozoa died gradually; however, few spermatozoa were still alive and capable of "Swimming". Leeuwenhoek was also the first one to discover the presence of spermatozoa in the fallopian tubes and female uterus. He even demonstrated that the spermatozoon was produced in the testicles and attained mobilization in the epididymis.

The date when spermatozoa shared its part of revelation, the theory of Animalculisme came into existence. According to this, Leeuwenhoek put his belief that the foetus was formed by the spermatozoa and therefore the necessity of eggs was negligible, the only thing needed was an environment for fertilization. The amplification of his repute brought lines of worry on his opponents' foreheads, and therefore they claimed that Leeuwenhoek's discovery on spermatozoa were not new, and for its authentication they referred to the work of German Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher* (1602-1680).

In his defense, Leeuwenhoek wrote a letter dated October 9, 1676. In this he provided an in depth detail of his observations and tried to raise a resistance against these accusations. He inscribed, "Several times, already, disputations were made to me regarding the fact that it is my imagination that extraordinarily small living organisms exist, which are invisible to the bare eye and which can only be seen with the help of special magnifiers or telescopes; they say that these living creatures have already been observed in Rome. For my part, although I have conducted research in this direction, it was not possible to see animalcules moving in air so large as to observe them with bare eyes".

Anthanasius Kircher or other scientists' works stayed in a dark corner of Leeuwenhoek's ignorance. He neither showed his interest in them nor did he have proper education to arrive to appropriate conclusions from his research. He considered himself a mere observer whose sole purpose was to catalogue his observations via writing.


The exact declaration of time is difficult, but it was in the year 1679 when Leeuwenhoek gave an illustration of the needle-shaped microscopic crystals of sodium urate formed in the tissues of gout patients in stone like deposits preferably known as tophi. Five years later, in 1984 he modified his observation and correctly speculated that the major reason of the pain of gout is due to the same sharp crystals that habitually kept jabbing into adjacent tissues. Leeuwenhoek's attainment was the only advancement on the subject of gout; another one missed materialization for more than a century.

The span that stretched from the year 1680 to the year 1701 accounted to Leeuwenhoek's concentration on the microdissections that was chiefly performed on insects. It was during this period that he made abysmal number of discoveries, the foremost surfaced in 1680 when he found and gave and detailed explanation of foraminifera ("wee cockles") in the white cliffs of England's Gravesend and nematodes in pond water. Leeuwenhoek wrote extensive accounts of the bees' mouthparts and stings, and was the first to apprehend that "fleas have fleas"

The keen perception of which he was a proprietor led to his enablement of correctly deciphering that each of the hundreds of facets of a fly's compound eye is actually a separate eye with its own lens. Despite of the truthfulness, this theory's eccentricity rose ridicule in the visiting scholars. The derision could have provoked anyone else, but Van through his persistence and invariable resilience managed to keep their mocking statements under his ignorance, and continued with his exceptional discoveries.

He noticed that in aphids some parents instead of sustaining eggs in their wombs contain fully formed young aphids. This observation led to the discovery of parthenogenesis or "virgin birth" which cohered perfectly with his belief in a perfromationist theory of the nature of organic reproduction, thereby strengthening the communion of the both. However, in an erroneous turn of events Charles Bonnet, who later did and extensive study and theorized about the implications of parthenogenesis, is credited with its original discovery. He also fallaciously attired this honor out of the sheer greediness to manage admission as a corresponding member to the French Academy of Sciences in 1740.

The auspicious year of 1983 brought multiple discoveries in the attention, and his most celebrated moment was the one when he discovered the bacteria in dental tartar, which included a motile bacillus, selenomonads and a micrococcus. With the inclusion of a motile spirochete, he also observed bacteria in faeces, and unearthed the existence of parasitic protozoa like Giardia and Balantidium in it, and he also located the lymphatic capillaries, containing a milk like white fluid.

The next sixteen years defined negligibility in terms of any substantial achievement, and then in the interlude of 1698, Leeuwenhoek provided a detailed elaboration of blood capillaries in several species. This achievement though somewhat generous in recognition, failed in the attainment of the recognition that he cuddled in his earlier discoveries. The tick arrived when the depression proved to be the only headway of his career. However, this interval of stagnancy was ephemeral as with the emergence of 1702 he followed the daughter colony formation that he catalogued during his observation of the sessile ciliate protozoa Vorticella and Stentor, and the colonial protozoon Volvox from a sample that he took from the pond water. The rough estimation that his instruments' resolving power facilitated made it easy for him to discover and illustrate the diatoms, the bacillariophyta, in fresh water. They are about 20-120 µm in measurement. Despite of the excellence that he developed while studying them, he failed in taking the account of the characteristic pores that are find in their frustules, which in customary norms measure less than 1µm in diameter.

The free-swimming and sessile rotifers of the pond water may have come to many individuals' eyes, but it was Leeuwenhoek who provided their first published description. He was also the foremost to describe the phenomenon of anhydrobiosis or the ability to survive parchedness in a species of bdelloid* rotifer, Philondina roseola.

[*Note: Bdelloid or "leech-like" is a term awarded to them because of the style that they employ during their locomotion upon a surface.]

Antonj Van Leeuwenhoek shares his part of impeccable distinction among radical pioneers, and was extensively acknowledged and honored for his genius in his own time. When he was in his 84th spring that was in 1716 when in the recognition of his work, the University of Louvian legitimately honored him by striking a gold medal with his resemblance on the obverse and an outlook of the city of Delft on the reverse. This tribute was gifted in a bag made of woven gold bullion, along with a diploma. This tradition was carried through the ages and it is what now followed during the modern bestowing of an honorary degree.


The honorary reception performed by the University of Louvian fortified Leeuwenhoek's prominence in the field of literature and secured his place as one of the most outstanding scientists who would ever walk this earth. It seemed that his presence would gratify the then brilliant and enthusiastic students for the next substantial years, but as the month of August left the spring's communion and headed into the fall's embrace, the situation attained a bit gloomy prospect. Leeuwenhoek's physiological soundness turned chaotic, and despite of every possible attempt he died on August 30, 1723. He was suffering from a rare disease; "Leeuwenhoek-disease" or "Respiratory myoclonus". On his death, the Pastor of the city of Delft wrote to the Royal Society:

"Antony van Leeuwenhoek considered that what is true in natural philosophy can be most fruitfully investigated by the experimental method, supported by the evidence of the senses; for which reason, by diligence and tireless labour he made with his own hand certain most excellent lenses, with the aid of which he discovered many secrets of nature, now famous throughout the whole philosophical World."

The honor that he had fostered till his very last breath, entitled him to eighteen pallbearers, who gloriously carried his sarcophagus to De Oude Kerk where he was buried only to be immortalized in the history. Nearly hundred and fifty years later, in 1877, the Royal Society established the Leeuwenhoek Medal, which is an each decade extravaganza solely meant to the person that have made the most significant contributions to the field of Microbiology. The recipients of this award included luminaries such as Louis Pasteur (1895), Martinus Beijerinck (1905) and Sergei Winogradsky (1935).


Contrary to his contemporaries, who also were profound educationist and had a sophisticated preference for ancient languages, especially, Leeuwenhoek missed a formal education and was unacquainted to any other language, except Dutch. His only traits that ever brought anyone under his spell were his charisma, patience and the resiliency for discovering new things. Explanations were generated by him, which illustrated the process through which the animalcules found their way into his bottles, and he also described the reason that resulted in their division and multiplication.

Leeuwenhoek, who considered himself as merely a conveyor of nature's miniscule beauties, failed to understand or appreciate the significance that his discoveries would elucidate while implicated in the understanding of disease and cell biology. He was a habitual in keeping updates with the science trends and any related news from Leiden, but patience was at scarce when it came to those who were the proprietor of undeserving egos; he once quoted:

"I've often heard Doctors and physicians talk about things that seem to me to have no rhyme or reason… It would have been better if they had said 'it's a secret quality': for of course it would have been too silly for learned people just to say 'we don't know."

Leeuwenhoek was a firm believer in Galileo's policy that gave prominence to the data assemblage and appointed it as the only adjudicator of the conclusion, and paid less heed to the mayhem created by the discussions on spontaneous regeneration. Leeuwenhoek had absolutely no conflicts with the reconciliation of his laboratorial revelations with the teachings of the bible, unlike his friend Swammerdam, who abandoned science and devoted himself to the religion after failing in getting adapted to this contradictory blend. His companion's abandonment infuriated Leeuwenhoek and he wrote a letter to George Garden, who was the Scottish Presbyterian minister and supporter of religious extremist Antonionette Bourignon; a prime indulgent in Swammerdam's desertion of science. He boldly wrote:

"…my efforts are ever striving towards no other end than to set the truth before my eyes, to embrace it, and to lay out to good account the small talent that I have received: in order to draw the world away from its heathenish superstition, to go over to the truth, and to cleave unto it."

Leeuwenhoek's words unearthed his ingenuity and perpetual belief in science, the secrets behind the legacy that took more than fifty years and the employment of inventiveness and perseverance in its making. It is this ethical clandestine that Leeuwenhoek wore along with his expertise and an unsophisticated but searching spirit, and made unparalleled discoveries. He provided intriguing meaning to the infinitesimally small creatures, which till then remained forgotten in the shed of ignorance. He showed that these highly underrated and habitually ignored organisms were the essential elements to sustain the life, and a deciding factor in its prolongation. He unearthed their precious involvement in nature's diversified processes and also provided a clearer view in the origination of the life, thereby eliminating all the pagan norms associated with it. If to be put simple and concise then we can say that if not a pioneer, then Leeuwenhoek undoubtedly was one of the foremost patrons who are responsible for the recognition that the science is enjoying today, and would be absolutely justified when considered as The Father of Microbiology.


"Whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.

"In the year of 1657 I discovered very small living creatures in rain water."

"My work, which I've done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men."

"A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished."

"I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?"

"In the year of 1657 I discovered very small living creatures in rain water."

"I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?"

"Some go to make money out of science, or to get a reputation in the learned world. But in lens-grinding and discovering things hidden from our sight, these count for nought. And I am satisfied too that not one man in a thousand is capable of such study, because it needs much time... and you must always keep thinking about these things if you are to get any results. And over and above all, most men are not curious to know: nay, some even make no bones about saying, What does it matter whether we know this or not?"

My work, which I've done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge.

"I've spent more time than many will believe [making microscopic observations], but I've done them with joy, and I've taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?"

My work, which I've done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men.

Otherwise I would surrender myself to slavery; I prefer to be a free man.

I know very well that there are Universities who do no believe that living creatures are in the male semen; but I do not mind about this, as I know I have the truth.

"Wormkens in de holligheit van de buyk van de haring."

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