Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) was a tradesman and scientist from Delft, in the Netherlands. He is best known for his contribution to improvement of the microscope and his contributions towards the establishment of cell biology. Using his handcrafted microscope he was the first to observe and describe muscles fibres, bacteria, spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries (small blood vessels).
His name at birth was Thonis Philipszoon. His letters were signed Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. He was probably known as Van Leeuwenhoek from a young age because he was born in a house at the corner of Lion's Gate in Delft. Van Leeuwenhoek translates as From Lion's Corner.
During his lifetime Van Leeuwenhoek ground over 500 optical lenses. His microscope was used and improved by Christiaan Huygens for his own investigations into microscopy.
He was introduced to microscopy by Huygens to observe the quality of the fabrics that he sold. From there, he grew an insatiable interest for the field. He spent his nights studying everything he could and carefully noted his observations. Unfortunately, he only spoke Dutch and the scientific language of the time was Latin. He wrote to Robert Hooke who knew both Dutch and Latin, and Hooke instantly realized the quality and pertinence of Leeuwenhoek's work. Their correspondence was translated by Hooke into Latin and published in the proceeding of the Royal Society.
- "No more pleasant sight has met my eye than this of so many thousands of living creatures in one small drop of water..." - Stated after his discovery of the microscopic world over three centuries ago.
The Dutch Royal Academy presents (every 10 years) the Leeuwenhoek medal to the scientist judged to have made the decade's most significant finding in microbiology. This is regarded by microbiologists as the highest honor in their field.