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April 28, 2003

Awards and Honors

Physicist Nauenberg to speak at Royal Society of London

Professor emeritus of physics Michael Nauenberg will be a keynote speaker at the Robert Hooke Tercentenary Conference this summer, July 7 to 9, at the Royal Society in London.

Michael Nauenberg
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Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was one of the leading natural philosophers of his day. The conference and related events commemorating the 300th anniversary of Hooke's death have been organized under the auspices of Gresham College, London, where Hooke spent most of his career.

Nauenberg will give the opening talk at the conference. In recent years, Nauenberg has been doing research in the history of physics and mathematics during the 17th and 18th centuries. He has published over a dozen articles on the works of Hooke, Isaac Newton, and Christian Huygens.

In his talk, "Hooke's Contributions to Dynamics," Nauenberg will describe Hooke's seminal contribution to the development of orbital dynamics.

"During the second half of the 17th century, the fundamental problem in astronomy was to understand the physical origin of Kepler's laws, which were known from observations to describe accurately the motion of the planets around the Sun," Nauenberg said.

Eventually, the mathematical solution was obtained by Newton, who presented his result in a famous book, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, first published in 1687. But it is not so well known that Hooke, almost three decades earlier, had proposed the underlying physical concepts that determine planetary motion, had presented his ideas in a small tract published in 1674, and had communicated them directly to Newton in a correspondence with him during the fall of 1679.

"In my talk, I will present some new historical evidence that Hooke's ideas played a crucial role in Newton's understanding of Kepler's area law, which allowed him to solve the problem of planetary motion," Nauenberg said.

Hooke, a true polymath, invented the universal joint, the iris diaphragm, and the best compound microscope of his time. In his highly influential book Micrographia, Hooke presented a detailed record of his observations with the microscope, illustrated with marvellous drawings. Hooke also played a major role in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666, along with his friend Christopher Wren.

Sessions at the Tercentenary Conference will be devoted to the full range of Hooke's life, work, milieu, and legacy.

For more on the life and works of Robert Hooke, see:

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