In arranging the exhibition The Secret Working of Nature: Robert Hooke and early science, the National Library of Wales co-operated with a number of other individuals and institutions. The National Library scientific exhibition is the first in its history and includes valuable items which have attracted a new audience to the Library, and a series of lectures were arranged to coincide with the exhibition.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is the book entitled Micrographia by Robert Hooke which was published by the Royal Society 350 years ago, in 1665. Hooke invented the compound microscope, an example of which is seen in the exhibition and he used it in his experiments in the meetings of the Royal Society. Through his microscope Hooke looked at insects, plants and bird’s feathers. These were shown in Micrographia in great detail. Hooke uses the book to suggest a new way of doing science, through careful observation and recording the results. This became a tenet of scientific practice. Many of his observations were drawn on impressive copper-plated illustrations for example, the flea, which opens to four times the size of the book.
Central to the exhibition is the microscope and telescope which were borrowed from the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. No other early examples of the telescope and microscope can be seen in Wales, and the Library is grateful to the Museum for borrowing them so that a comprehensive story of early science could be conveyed. Lucy Blaxland, the Head of Collections at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford compiled and placed both instruments in the Hengwrt Gallery, with the rest of the items coming from the Library’s collections. The instruments originated from the period of Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton’s founding of the Royal Societ, and along with Micrographia and other books such as the Principia by Isaac Newton, other contributions by Welshmen such as Robert Recorde, William Jones, Thomas Pennant and Edward Lhuyd can be seen.
Another famous image from the book is Hooke’s study of cork under a microscope. Through this, he was the first, though without realizing it initially, to observe cellular structures in plants. This will be the subject of the first of the two lectures that remain in the series. This will be given by Professor Deri Thomas of Bangor University. The lecture will be entitled Opening the door of life: what exactly did Robert Hooke find when he discovered the cell? This will be held on December 2. It will be in Welsh and simultaneous translation to English will be provided. On January 6, Professor Sarah Hutton of the University of York will be lecturing in English on Stranger than Fiction: Robert Hooke, Margaret Cavendish and satire on seventeenth-century science.