Happy Birthday to the Father of Microbiology

On October 24th, 2016, Google honored Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s 384th birthday with the daily Google Doodle. Leeuwenhoek (Lee vǝn hook), a Dutch cloth merchant by trade, is known as the Father of Microbiology. He may have used magnification to determine the density of a fabric’s thread count. With no formal university training, he designed and built hundreds of microscopes that allowed him to view a world teeming with life, not one bit of which was visible to the naked eye.

Leeuwenhoek may have seen Robert Hooke’s book, Micrographia, when he traveled to London on business. In it were sketches of fabric as Hooke had seen fabric through a magnifying lens. But there were also sketches of microscopic animal and plant parts. Leeuwenhoek began observing everything he could using microscopes he designed and constructed himself. He looked at microbes on his own body and in his bodily fluids. He called the never-before-seen life forms he observed animalcules.

Help your students learn about microbes, as they learn about the great scientist who focused the world’s attention on them. We now know that microbes cause disease, tooth decay, and corrosion, but they also protect our skin, aid digestion, fight disease, and purify water.

A fun and educational activity is to have students identify a microbe that contributes to the well-being of plants, animals (including humans), or the Earth, and make a fan poster for the microbe. Google free poster maker and select an option that works with your students’ ability levels. Share these video clips and museum sites with your class and have students use the informational links in creating their posters.

Video clips & Sites to Show Students

This Google Doodle includes a bit of Leeuwenhoek’s backstory and this one is just the doodle.

Microbe Man is an entertaining video clip of a man—made of microbes, as we all are—dancing, swimming, and strolling through his day.

The Microbe Cartoon shows two microbes commenting on their favorite scientists.

Seeing the Invisible is a video clip of Leeuwenhoek’s observations told with papercut art. The New York Times1 article that accompanied the clip states that there are “10,000 times more microbes in our intestines than human beings on the planet…these tiny creatures keep us alive, partly by donating genes and proteins that we rely on. And Leeuwenhoek gave us the first glimpse.”

Microscopic Movie Stars explores how, with today’s digital cameras and microscopes, students can explore Leeuwenhoek’s microbial world, perhaps even becoming photographic masters with this readily available technology.

Through van Leeuwenhoek’s Eyes video clip gives a brief look through a microscope.

Lens on Leeuwenhoek: The Life, Times, and Accomplishments of Antony van Leeuwenhoek is a brief video clip from the Lens on Leeuwenhoek website below.

Informational Sites

Micropia is a museum dedicated to microbes. It is close to Delft where Leeuwenhoek conducted most of his observations. The museum has a kiss-o-meter that reveals how oral microbes of couples change as a result of this everyday human contact. Even though your students don’t have access to the meter, they can learn about the impact of the microbial exchange, also known as…a kiss. The museum’s online site is full of interesting information, excellent photos, and great ideas.       

Lens on Leeuwenhoek packs everything about Leeuwenhoek in this nutshell of a website. It shares Leeuwenhoek firsts, such as seeing spermatozoa, red blood cells in capillaries, and bacteria.  It includes entertaining tidbits. For example, Leeuwenhoek’s daughter not only possessed many of his original microscopes when she died, but she also had over 2,000 teacups. And, part of Leeuwenhoek’s civic responsibilities had included inspecting Delft’s wine barrels.

The Micropolitan Museum includes exhibitions such as “The Protists Parade” in the Freshwater Collection or the “Diatom Display” in the Marine Collection.

Pictures of Van Leeuwenhoek’s Microscopes are available from Smithsonian Magazine. Here are directions for making a replica of a Leeuwenhoek microscope. This guide of how a Leeuwenhoek microscope functioned is from the Museum of Microscopy.

For Teachers

Nick Lane’s discussion of Leeuwenhoek’s observations of, as he called them, “little animals,” provides teacher background on the significance of Leeuwenhoek today.

1 “Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible” by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck, New York Times Sept. 15, 2014

Post Author: Diane

Diane D has been researching and writing for Simple Solutions since retiring from her teaching position at the Nordonia schools. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Diane, who is fluent in Italian, travels a lot, bikes every opportunity she gets, rock climbs, skis, and has recently joined a rowing team.