Teaching Science through History II

Robert Hooke, Hooke's Law & the Watch Spring

by Shusaku Horibe

Hooke's law is a standard feature of introductory physics classes, yet how often do students learn about Robert Hooke himself? This case follows Hooke from a skilled laboratory assistant and instrument maker in 1658 to his rise as a major innovator and theoretician in late 17th-century London. His work on springs led to the familiar relationship on elasticity now named after him, as well as to a heated priority dispute over the invention of a functioning watch spring. Ironically, Hooke never directly related the two, although so vividly linked in our minds today. Major nature of science themes include:

  • scientific careers (and social class)
  • credit and priority (and social class)
  • nature of discovery

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memorial window

Hooke's seal (& portrait?)

Robert Boyle

from Mircographia

Boyle's air pump

Hooke's drawing of Gascoigne's micrometer

St. Paul Cathedral dome

Wren's drawing

Christian Huygens

Hooke's 1676 quadrant

Huygens' pendulum clock


Monument to the Great Fire of London

Henry Oldenburg

plate from Hooke's 1678 Of Spring