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Encyclopedia > Jan Swammerdam

Jan Swammerdam (February 12, 1637 - February 17, 1680) was a Dutch biologist and microscopist. His best-known work was on insect development, demonstrating that the various phases during the life of an insect--egg, larva, pupa, and adult—are different forms of the same animal.



Swammerdam was born in Amsterdam. His father was an apothecary, and an amateur collector of minerals, coins, fossils, and insects from around the world. His mother died in 1661. The same year, when he was 24, Swammerdam entered the University of Leiden to study medicine. After qualifying as a candidate in medicine in 1663, he left for France, spending time in Samur and Paris. He returned to Leiden in September 1665, and earned his M.D. on February 22, 1667. Amsterdam Location Flag Country Netherlands Province North Holland Population 742,951(1 January 2005) Demonym Amsterdammer Coordinates Website www. ... A historical re-enactor protraying a 19th century apothecary in Old Salem, North Carolina. ...

Once he left university, he spent much of his time pursuing his interest in insects. This choice caused a rift between Swammerdam and his father, who thought his son should practice medicine. The relationship between the two deteriorated, and Swammerdam's father cut off his financial support for Swammerdam's entomological studies. As a result, Swammerdam was forced, at least occasionally, to practice medicine in order to finance his own research.

From 1667 through 1674, Swammerdam continued his research and published three books. In 1675, Swammerdam renounced his work, and decided to devote the remainder of his life to spiritual matters with the Flemish mystic, Antonia Bourignon. On July 18, 1675, a friend of Swammerdam's who was with the mystic sent his drawings of silkworm anatomy to Malpighi, and reported that Swammerdam had destroyed the manuscript text and that he was searching for God. He did not completely reject his scientific studies, however. In 1680, he had instructions in his will to publish his manuscripts, and there is evidence that the will had been revised in the past year or two. Half a century later Boerhaave published the Biblia naturae in 1737-1738. Herman Boerhaave (December 31, 1668 _ September 23, 1738) was a Dutch humanist and physician of European fame. ...

Research on Insects

Much of the knowledge of insects in the 17th century was inherited from Aristotle. According to this Classical paradigm the gulf between insects and other animals was so significant as to disqualify them from the types of investigations done on fish, reptiles, and mammals. Much of Swammerdam's entomological work was done to show that the difference between insects and the "higher" animals was one of degree, not kind.

Swammerdam's principal interest in this area was demonstrating that insects develop in the same gradual manner as other animals. He wanted to dispel the contemporary notion of metamorphosis--the idea that different life stages of an insect (e.g. caterpillar and butterfly) represented a sudden change from one type of animal into another. He garnered evidence against this claim from his dissections. By examining larvae, he was able to identify underdeveloped adult features in pre-adult animals. For example, he noticed that the wings of dragonflies and mayflies exist prior to their final molt. Swammerdam used these observations to bolster his case against metamorphosis in his 1669 publication, Historia Insectorum Generalis (The Natural History of insects). This work also included many descriptions of insect anatomy. For example, it was here that Swammerdam revealed that the "king" bee has ovaries.

In addition to his research on metamorphosis, Swammerdam's entomological work stands out because he was among the first people to study insects in a systematized fashion (i.e. careful dissection, comparison of different species, and use the microscope). His anatomical and behavioral descriptions of bees, wasps, ants, dragon flies, snails, worms, and butterflies were major contributions to the fledgling field of entomology in the late seventeenth century.

Besides Historia, he published Miraculum naturae sive uteri muliebris fabrica in 1672 and Ephemeri vita, in 1674. The latter was a study of the mayfly, which contains long passages on the glory of the creator. His Biblia naturae was a collection of several of his papers and drawings.

Research on Anatomy

Swammerdam was not a pioneer in the study of anatomy as he was in entomology, but he nonetheless made important contributions. He played a significant role in debunking the balloonist theory, which held that muscles contract because of an influx of air or fluid. His two best-known experiments in this field were both conducted on frogs. In the first, he cut out the heart of a frog. After it was removed, the frog was still able to move around. In the same heartless frog, he also observed that if he touched a certain parts of the brain certain muscles would contract. For Swammerdam, this was evidence that the brain was necessary for muscle contractions, but the circulatory system was not. In the second experiment, Swammerdam caused a frog leg under water to contract, showing that the water level did not rise and thus no air or fluid could be flowing into the leg. His use of and experiments with frog muscle preparations played a key role in the development of our current understanding of nerve-muscle function (Cobb, 2002). Nerves (yellow) Nerves redirects here. ... A top-down view of skeletal muscle Muscle (from Latin musculus little mouse, referring to muscles like the biceps which pop up as though a mouse were scurrying about under the skin [1]) is contractile tissue of the body and is derived from the mesodermal layer of embryonic germ cells. ...

Medthods and the Context of the Scientific Revolution

Swammerdam discovered many new and important features of insects and other creatures of the natural world. His work on anatomy was also important in debunking old theories. His most important addition to biology at the time, however, was simply his method for research. Unlike physics, math, and astronomy, biology did not have a major upheaval in thought during the seventeenth century. Charles Darwin was the first to totally change biology. Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist who achieved lasting fame by producing considerable evidence that species originated through evolutionary change, at the same time proposing the scientific theory that natural selection is the mechanism by which such change occurs. ...

There were, however, major changes taking place in biological methods. The work of Francis Bacon and others inspired an increasing importance on experimentation, rather than simple observation. The seventeenth century saw the adoption of the microscope to biology and anatomy. In his experiments, Swammerdam had to develop several new techniques for using the new device, and specialized dissection tools that he used while examining insects. The precision Swammerdam used in his experiments remained unsurpassed for many years. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that anyone made better drawings of insect dissections. Sir Francis Bacon For other people named Francis Bacon, see Francis Bacon (disambiguation). ... A microscope (Greek: micron = small and scopos = aim) is an instrument for viewing objects that are too small to be seen by the naked or unaided eye. ...

Religious Views

See also

The year 1637 in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here. ... The year 1680 in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here. ...


  • Cobb M. 2002. Exorcizing the animal spirits: John Swammerdam on nerve function. Nature Reviews, Volume 3, Pages 395-400.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Winsor, Mary P. "Swammerdam, Jan." Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 1976
  • Cobb, Matthew. "Reading and writing The Book of Nature: Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680)." Endeavour. Vol. 24(3). 2000.
  • O'Connell, Sanjida. "A silk road to biology." The Times. May 27, 2002.
  • Hall, Rupert A. From Galileo to Newton 1630-1720R. &R. Clark, Ltd., Edinburgh: 1963.

  Results from FactBites:
Jan Swammerdam - Wikipedia (289 words)
Jan Swammerdam (12 februari 1637 17 februari 1680) was een Nederlands natuurwetenschapper.
Nadat mensen als Johannes Hudde, Christiaan Huygens en Spinoza al verbeteringen hadden aangebracht aan één de uitvindingen van Cornelis Drebbel, namelijk de microscoop was het Jan Swammerdam die de wetenschappelijke potentie van het instrument tot zijn volle recht zou laten komen.
Jan was de zoon van een Amsterdamse apotheker die bekend stond om zijn natuurhistorische verzameling.
Jan Swammerdam - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (357 words)
Jan Swammerdam (February 12, 1637 - February 17, 1680) was a Dutch scientist.
Swammerdam was born in Amsterdam, the son of an apothecary and naturalist.
He also spent much time in the study of insects, investigating the subject of their metamorphosis, and in this and other ways laying the beginnings of their natural classification, while his researches on the anatomy of mayflies and bees were also of great importance.
  More results at FactBites »



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