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  • One of the great things about science

  • is that when scientists make a discovery,

  • it's not always in a prescribed manner,

  • as in, only in a laboratory under strict settings,

  • with white lab coats and all sorts of neat science gizmos

  • that go, "Beep!"

  • In reality,

  • the events and people involved in some of the major scientific discoveries

  • are as weird and varied as they get.

  • My case in point:

  • The Weird History of the Cell Theory.

  • There are three parts to the cell theory.

  • One: All organisms are composed of one or more cells.

  • Two: The cell is the basic unit of structure and organization in organisms.

  • And three: All cells come from preexisting cells.

  • To be honest, this all sounds incredibly boring

  • until you dig a little deeper into how the world of microscopic organisms

  • and this theory came to be.

  • It all started in the early 1600s,

  • in the Netherlands, where a spectacle maker

  • name Zacharias Jansen is said to have come up with the first compound microscope,

  • along with the first telescope.

  • Both claims are often disputed,

  • as apparently he wasn't the only bored guy with a ton of glass lenses to play with at the time.

  • Despite this,

  • the microscope soon became a hot item

  • that every naturalist or scientist at the time wanted to play with,

  • making it much like the iPad of its day.

  • One such person

  • was a fellow Dutchman by the name of Anton van Leeuwenhoek,

  • who heard about these microscope doohickies,

  • and instead of going out and buying one,

  • he decided to make his own.

  • And it was a strange little contraption indeed,

  • as it looked more like a tiny paddle the size of a sunglass lens.

  • If he had stuck two together, it probably would have made a wicked set of sunglasses ...

  • that you couldn't see much out of.

  • Any-who, once Leeuwenhoek had his microscope ready,

  • he went to town, looking at anything and everything he could with them,

  • including the gunk on his teeth.

  • Yes, you heard right.

  • He actually discovered bacteria by looking at dental scrapings,

  • which, when you keep in mind that people didn't brush their teeth much,

  • if at all, back then,

  • he must have had a lovely bunch of bacteria to look at.

  • When he wrote about his discovery,

  • he didn't call them bacteria, as we know them today.

  • But he called them animalcules,

  • because they looked like little animals to him.

  • While Leeuwenhoek was staring at his teeth gunk,

  • he was also sending letters to a scientific colleague in England,

  • by the name of Robert Hooke.

  • Hooke was a guy who really loved all aspects of science,

  • so he dabbled in a little bit of everything, including physics, chemistry and biology.

  • Thus it is Hooke who we can thank for the term "the cell,"

  • as he was looking at a piece of cork under his microscope,

  • and the little chambers he saw reminded him of cells,

  • or the rooms monks slept in in their monasteries.

  • Think college dorm rooms, but without the TV's, computers and really annoying roommates.

  • Hooke was something of an under-appreciated scientist of his day,

  • something he brought upon himself,

  • as he made the mistake of locking horns with one of the most famous scientists ever,

  • Sir Isaac Newton.

  • Remember when I said Hooke dabbled in many different fields?

  • Well, after Newton published a groundbreaking book

  • on how planets move due to gravity,

  • Hooke made the claim that Newton

  • had been inspired by Hooke's work in physics.

  • Newton, to say the least, did not like that,

  • which sparked a tense relationship between the two that lasted even after Hooke died,

  • as quite a bit of Hooke's research,

  • as well as his only portrait, was "misplaced," due to Newton.

  • Much of it was rediscovered, thankfully, after Newton's time,

  • but not his portrait, as sadly no one knows what Robert Hooke looked like.

  • Fast-forward to the 1800s,

  • where two German scientists discovered something that today we might find rather obvious,

  • but helped tie together what we now know as the cell theory.

  • The first scientist was Matthias Schleiden,

  • a botanist who liked to study plants under a microscope.

  • From his years of studying different plant species,

  • it finally dawned on him that every single plant he had looked at

  • were all made of cells.

  • At the same time, on the other end of Germany,

  • was Theodor Schwann,

  • a scientist who not only studied slides of animal cells under the microscope,

  • and got a special type of nerve cell named after him,

  • but also invented rebreathers for firefighters

  • and had a kickin' pair of sideburns.

  • After studying animal cells for a while,

  • he too came to the conclusion that all animals were made of cells.

  • Immediately, he reached out via snail mail,

  • as Twitter had yet to be invented,

  • to other scientists working in the same field,

  • met with Schleiden, who got back to him, and the two started working on the beginnings of the cell theory.

  • A bone of contention arose between them

  • as for the last part of the cell theory,

  • that cells come from preexisting cells.

  • Schleiden didn't exactly subscribe to that thought,

  • as he swore cells came from free cell formation,

  • where they just kind of spontaneously crystalized into existence.

  • That's when another scientist, named Rudolph Virchow,

  • stepped in with research showing that cells did come from other cells,

  • research that was actually -- hmm, how to put it? -- borrowed without permission

  • from a Jewish scientist by the name of Robert Remak,

  • which led to two more feuding scientists.

  • Thus, from teeth gunk to torquing off Newton,

  • crystallization to Schwann cells,

  • the cell theory came to be an important part of biology today.

  • Some things we know about science today may seem boring,

  • but how we came to know them is incredibly fascinating.

  • So if something bores you,

  • dig deeper.

  • It's probably got a really weird story behind it somewhere.

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B1 TED-Ed microscope newton theory scientist teeth

【TED-Ed】The wacky history of cell theory - Lauren Royal-Woods

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    Why Why posted on 2013/03/28
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