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Micrographia 350: new ages of microscopy 1665 to 2015

On 2nd October, the Christ Church Chemists Affinity Group, supported by the Faraday Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry, organised a half-day symposium with speakers from Japan, Cambridge and Oxford to mark the 350th anniversary of the publication of the first ever scientific best-seller, the earliest handbook of microscopy Micrographia, written by Robert Hooke.

The event was held in Christ Church, where Robert Hooke was an undergraduate from 1653 to 1658. Hooke's Micrographia, published in September 1665, is thought to be the first handbook of microscopy, the study of minute objects by means of a microscope, as well as the first major publication of the Royal Society. This remarkable book with its large fold-out illustrations revealed to its readers the amazing details, invisible to the naked eye, of a range of specimens. It inspired wide public interest in microscopy and coined the biological term "cell" to describe the basic unit of life.

Speakers at the Micrographia 350 Symposium: from left to right, Dr Martin Grossel (Chairman of the Christ Church Chemists’ Affinity Group) Dr Steven Lee (University of Cambridge), Judith Curthoys (Christ Church Archivist), Professor Eiichi Nakamura (University of Tokyo), Professor Dirk Aarts (Christ Church and University of Oxford), Professor Allan Chapman (University of Oxford). A first edition of Hooke’s Micrographia is on display.

The afternoon began with a lecture on Hooke's contributions to the science of microscopy given by science historian Professor Allan Chapman, together with a description of the college in Hooke’s time by the archivist, Judith Curthoys, and a discussion by Dr Anna Camilleri, English Fellow at Christ Church, about the language of science as used in Micrographia

In addition to marking the Micrographia anniversary, the event also celebrated the recent awards in chemistry for advances in microscopy with lectures by the RSC Centenary Prize winner Professor Eiichi Nakamura and Dr Steven Lee, from Cambridge University, a co-worker of Nobel Prize winner W E Moerner.  Whilst Dr Lee's lecture focussed on how fluorescence emission from single molecules can be used to track the 3D-movement of individual regulatory proteins within bacteria, Professor Nakamura demonstrated how his novel electron-microscopy techniques can be used to observe molecular motion within a single molecule, and to study directly the dimerization of two fullerene units. In his concluding remarks, Dirk Aarts, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Christ Church, gave a glimpse of some new applications of microscopy to chemistry, and explained their connection with the pioneering science of Hooke.  There was also a poster exhibition by participating students on aspects of microscopy and chemistry, and the Symposium concluded with a reception in the Picture Gallery, where a first edition of Hooke's Micrographia was on display.

A podcast of the lectures, prepared by the University IT unit is available at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/units/christ-church.

The event was made possible by the award of £2000 from the Faraday Division Council under its small grants scheme and support from the Governing Body of Christ Church.

The Christ Church Chemists Affinity Group, abbreviated to (Ch)3, was formed in 2014 and is a voluntary group of old members, created to promote the interests of alumni of Christ Church who read Chemistry there, or who carried out research in Chemistry under the umbrella of Christ Church as their graduate college.  So far the group have organised a garden party in 2014, the Micrographia event in October and are planning a dinner in January 2016.   You can find out more about the group via their website http://www.chchchem.org.uk/index.html.

David  Dunmur (1959) Treasurer, Martin Grossel (1973) Chairman and Fiona Holdsworth (1981) Vice-Chairman Christ Church Chemists’ Affinity Group.