Van Leeuwenhoek: Father of Microbiology

Author Melinda Penner Published on 04/16/2015

Antony van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch Calvinist born in the 17th century who became the father of microbiology. He was a draper by trade and owned his own business in Delft, Holland. He didn’t have any scientific training, but he was in awe of God’s creation and wanted to study it to understand it better. He felt this was loving God with his mind.

He became interested in lens making as a hobby and developed a unique technique for making lenses that required no grinding. He never shared his technique with anyone. In fact, he never published a scientific paper. His work came to light in his correspondence with the Royal Society in London. He was the first to record observations of bacteria, spermatozoa, and blood flow in capillaries. He was also the first to observe infusoria (tiny aquatic life), vacuoles (a structure in cells), and the banded pattern of muscle fibers. He proved that microscopic organisms procreated, which differed from the prevailing scientific view that they generated spontaneously.

In 1676, he sent his observations of microscopic single-celled organisms to the Royal Society. These were unknown at the time, and the Society doubted his findings. They sent a team of experts to visit van Leeuwenhoek, and they confirmed what he had reported.

Van Leeuwenhoek was always secretive about the specific techniques of his work. He never allowed anyone to see his best microscope lenses, or the many microscopes he built over time. Very few of his microscopes and lenses survived. It wasn’t until the 1950s that anyone was able to recreate his technique for the fine lenses he made.

He remained humble because of his lack of scientific training, despite being inducted into the Royal Society and being visited by Peter the Great and other dignitaries.

Antony always approached his work with reverence, wondering at the details of God’s creation large and small. He viewed his work as providing more evidence of God’s greatness. He believed science could be studied to glorify God.