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Civil Engineering Legends: Hooke

Mar 21 2007 19:33
Nick Simpson
An interesting insight into the life of an oft forgotten civil engineering hero.
Hooke may have looked like this

Robert Hooke FRS (1653-1703)

The strange blend of science, math and art that is engineering, its not surprising we come across a plethora of historic names in our lectures: Fourier, Laplace, Euler and Stokes to name a few. While our department is named after Sir Alec Skempton and soil mechanics is dominated by Karl Terzahgi, what do really now about these genius; who?s ideas our profession is founded on? Well to help out here is a short profile on one of the greatest men to have ever lived, Robert Hooke.

You were probably first introduced to Hooke in physics classes at school, investigating linear elastic springs. With the help of a Mr. Thomas Young, Hooke?s law links strain to stress, but that is only scratching the surface. As I am sure you are all aware Hooke?s law is in fact far more useful, relating Poissons? Ratio and Young?s Modulus in three dimensions and vital to soil and structural mechanics. But Hooke was a polymath, a character who excelled in multiple fields of sciences and arts. Looking at his achievements, Hooke was a bone fide genius. Inventing the universal joint, the iris diaphragm in cameras, the word ?cell? in biology, the spirit level, the sash window and the first weather station.

Hooke was also the Surveyor of London after the Great Fire of 1666. He worked as an architect with Sir Christopher Wren in designing the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Bethlem Royal Hospital and the reconstruction of today?s St. Pauls Cathedral (Hooke created the method of construction for the triple dome). He was the architect for Monument, a 61 metre memorial to the Great Fire, lying 61 metres from where it first started in a baker?s shop on Pudding Lane. While Monument may appear to be just huge column, it is in fact a scientific instrument, acting as a zenith telescope and used for pendulum experiments.

Amazingly no authenticated portrait of Hooke exists today. A small memorial can be found in Westminster Abbey, installed in 2005, 302 years after he died. As a Fellow of the Royal Society he famously had a spat with Newton, both were key figures in the scientific revolution. Rumour has it that Hooke first thought of the inverse square law but was unable to prove it mathematically with Newton beating him to the punch.

As the first man to infer the rotation of Jupiter and identify the fifth star in the Orion constellation Hooke?s abilities had no end. With all this in mind it is not hard to understand why he is known as the Leonardo of England.

(Further Reading: ?Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London? by Lisa Jardine)

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Discussion about “Civil Engineering Legends: Hooke”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Oct 02 2010 11:16

every civil engineer must and should know about him.

Jul 17 2011 18:43

Where can i get more information about him?

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