Who Discovered The Cell And How? (2023)

Table of Contents (click to expand)
  • A Brief History Of The Microscope
  • The Discovery Of The Cell – Robert Hooke And Anton Van Leeuwenhoek
  • Conclusion

Robert Hooke was the first scientist to describe cells and he also coined the word. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first to describe bacteria and protists.

We are all composed of cells. They are the building blocks of you, me, an elephant, a shark, a snake, a cockroach, an oak tree, the mold growing on stale pizza, as well as the amoeba and all its single-celled cousins.

However, when you look at an elephant, we don’t see any cells. We see greyish-brown wrinkly skin, large floppy ears, and the beast’s impressive trunk. We don’t see these cells because our eyes simply can’t see things at such a small scale.

The smallest cell is a bacterial cell, measuring in at about 0.1 nanometer (10-9), while the average cell of an animal is usually between 20 micrometers and 100 micrometers. The smallest objects that our naked eyes can see are about 0.1 millimeters.

So, if cells are basically invisible to us, who discovered them—and how?

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A Brief History Of The Microscope

The history of the cell, and all mico-organismic life, is closely tied to the invention of the microscope.

Humans have long known that objects can be magnified when seen through certain materials. By the thirteenth century, lenses had been invented and had been put to use in spectacles, magnifying glasses, and the telescope.

Microscopes came into the picture much later, in the early 17th century. Credit for the invention of the first compound microscope goes to a father-son duo, father Hans Janssen and son Zacharias Janssen. Sometime between 1590 and 1600, these spectacle makers in Holland had the idea of putting a lens on either side of a tube. Voila, the compound microscope was born.

Funnily enough, ten years later, in 1610, Galileo Galilei decided to look through his telescope from the wrong end, thereby creating his own compound microscope, even though he didn’t know about Janssen’s work.

Who Discovered The Cell And How? (1)

Though scientists now had a microscope, it would take another 60 years or so before actual cells were found. The first reason was that these first microscopes didn’t offer much magnification; they only enlarged objects by 3 to 9 times, not enough to see a cell.

The second reason was that people weren’t looking for cells. The popular opinion before microorganisms were discovered was that all life could be seen by the naked eye. With such a belief, many naturalists focused on describing large objects and their parts.

Also Read: Which Is Better: Optical Microscope Or Electron Microscope?

The Discovery Of The Cell – Robert Hooke And Anton Van Leeuwenhoek

The credit for discovering the cell goes to legendary scientist Robert Hooke.

Robert Hooke, native of the Isles of Wight in England, was a polymath and prolific scientist. He began his career as a mechanical engineer and inventor. He perfected the air pump, invented the spring balance for watches, and determined a way to accurately determine longitudes at sea (the result of which he curiously didn’t publish). He also helped rebuild London after the Great Fire of London—no small feat!

Robert Hooke was also interested in the problems of gravity, an area of Isaac Newton’s expertise. After Newton published Principia, Hooke claimed that Newton had stolen the inverse square law from him. The two soon became arch-nemeses, with many angry letters exchanged and much professional sabotage involved.

Who Discovered The Cell And How? (2)

Though Robert Hooke couldn’t claim the fame for gravity itself, he would earn historical fame through his discovery of cells!

In 1665, Robert Hooke published Micrographia, a book dedicated to the microscopic. In keeping with his inventive nature, Hooke created a unique compound microscope that allowed him to magnify objects up to 5o times. With this, he could look at objects smaller than anyone had even before seen.

Who Discovered The Cell And How? (3)

He made almost 60 observations with his microscope of everything from bread mold, linen, and silk to wild oats and cork. It was while Hooke was looking at cork under the microscope that he commented that the pores of the cork reminded him of the cells of monks. Thus, he called them cells.

Micrographia was the first book to describe the most minuscule aspects of life, and it was an instant hit.

Across the English Channel, on the continent, was another brilliant scientist who had likely come across Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. This was Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, one of the other discoverers of cells.

Leeuwenhoek was an unconventional scientist, to say the least. A textile merchant by profession, Leeuwenhoek had a brilliant mind bent towards curiosity, which led him to create his own, peculiar version of a microscope, one that could magnify objects up to 250 times!

Who Discovered The Cell And How? (4)

With this microscope, Leeuwenhoek looked at everything he could, sending letters of his observations and results of his experiments to the Royal Society, of which Robert Hooke was a member.

In 1676, he was spurred to examine a three-week-old pepper soup under the microscope. Within the soup, he saw “very wee animals” floating about. This is the first written account of bacteria. Later, he decided to take a closer look at the gunk on his teeth, and those of two other women and two men. There too, he found his little animals, which he lovingly referred to as ‘animalcules’.

In a letter from Leeuwenhoek to the Royal society on the bacteria, he writes, “an unbelievably great company of living animalcules, a-swimming more nimbly than any I had ever seen up to this time. The biggest sort. . . bent their body into curves in going forwards. . . Moreover, the other animalcules were in such enormous numbers, that all the water. . . seemed to be alive.”

Later, Robert Hooke verified these findings.

Urged by his colleagues, Leeuwenhoek even looked at his semen under the microscope, where he found ‘animalcules’, or what we know today as sperm.

Also Read: What Is The Cell Theory And How Was It Discovered?


To us, the idea of a cell is nothing special today, but in the 17th century, when most scientists believed that life sprung from thin air, and that a mini-human was present in a sperm, the idea of cells and bacteria was outlandish.

It took another 200 years before the next wave of scientists confirmed the idea of cells and took the next leap forward. The famous aphorism of cell biology, Omnis cellula e cellula, which means “every cell comes from another cell” also came into existence around this time, though who actually uttered it is uncertain—either François-Vincent Raspail or Rudolf Virchow.

Two scientists, Mattais Schleiden and Theodore Schwann, building on the work of many other scientists, proposed the tenets of Cell Theory.

  1. All living things are made up of cells.
  2. Cells are the basic structural unit of the cell.
  3. All cells come from preexisting cells.

Any scientist today wouldn’t blink at the above phrases, but the idea that the same things that build an elephant also makes up humans, plants, insects and every mushroom in the forest was mind-blowing only a few centuries ago!

How well do you understand the article above!

Can you answer a few questions based on the article you just read?

Who Discovered The Cell And How? (5)

References (click to expand)
  1. Gest, H. (2004). The Discovery of Microorganisms by Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Fellows of the Royal Society. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 58(2), 187–201. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4142050 - JSTOR
  2. Whitrow, G. J. (1938). Robert Hooke. Philosophy of Science, 5(4), 493–502. http://www.jstor.org/stable/184662 - JSTOR
  3. journal article - www.jstor.org
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Who Discovered The Cell And How? ›

In 1665, Robert Hooke published Micrographia, a book filled with drawings and descriptions of the organisms he viewed under the recently invented microscope. The invention of the microscope led to the discovery of the cell by Hooke.

When and how were cells first discovered? ›

The cell was first discovered and named by Robert Hooke in 1665. He remarked that it looked strangely similar to cellula or small rooms which monks inhabited, thus deriving the name. However what Hooke actually saw was the dead cell walls of plant cells (cork) as it appeared under the microscope.

Who are the 5 scientists who discovered cells? ›

Landmarks in Discovery of Cells
Robert HookeDiscovered cells
Anton Van LeuwenhoekDiscovered protozoa and bacteria
Robert BrownDiscovered cell nucleus
Albert Von KollikerDiscovered mitochondria
5 more rows

Who is Robert Hooke and what did he discover about cells? ›

While observing cork through his microscope, Hooke saw tiny boxlike cavities, which he illustrated and described as cells. He had discovered plant cells! Hooke's discovery led to the understanding of cells as the smallest units of life—the foundation of cell theory.

How was the first cell invented? ›

The first cell is thought to have arisen by the enclosure of self-replicating RNA and associated molecules in a membrane composed of phospholipids. Each phospholipid molecule has two long hydrophobic (more...)

How did Robert Brown discover the nucleus? ›

It was first described by Franz Bauer in 1804 and in more detail in 1831 by Scottish botanist Robert Brown in a talk at the Linnean Society of London. Brown was studying orchids under the microscope when he observed an opaque area, which he called the "areola" or "nucleus", in the cells of the flower's outer layer.

Who discovered cell Robert Hooke or Anton van Leeuwenhoek? ›

The cell was first discovered and named by ROBERT HOOKE in 1665.

What is the history of the cell? ›

The cell was first discovered by Robert Hooke in 1665, which can be found to be described in his book Micrographia. In this book, he gave 60 observations in detail of various objects under a coarse, compound microscope. One observation was from very thin slices of bottle cork.

How many scientists discovered cell theory? ›

The ideas of all three scientists — Schwann, Schleiden, and Virchow — led to cell theory, which is one of the fundamental theories unifying all of biology. Cell theory states that: All organisms are made of one or more cells. All the life functions of organisms occur within cells.

Who are the 6 major scientists involved in the cell theory? ›

The observations of Hooke, Leeuwenhoek, Schleiden, Schwann, Virchow, and others led to the development of the cell theory. The cell theory is a widely accepted explanation of the relationship between cells and living things.

Who is the father of cell? ›

Nobel laureate Dr. George Emil Palade is considered to be the father of cell biology.

What did van Leeuwenhoek discover? ›

Leeuwenhoek is universally acknowledged as the father of microbiology. He discovered both protists and bacteria [1]. More than being the first to see this unimagined world of 'animalcules', he was the first even to think of looking—certainly, the first with the power to see.

What 2 things did Robert Hooke discover? ›

English physicist Robert Hooke is known for his discovery of the law of elasticity (Hooke's law), for his first use of the word cell in the sense of a basic unit of organisms (describing the microscopic cavities in cork), and for his studies of microscopic fossils, which made him an early proponent of a theory of ...

How did scientist first discover cells? ›

His microscope used three lenses and a stage light, which illuminated and enlarged the specimens. These advancements allowed Hooke to see something wondrous when he placed a piece of cork under the microscope. Hooke detailed his observations of this tiny and previously unseen world in his book, Micrographia.

Who invented the first cell? ›

Who introduced the first cell? ›

The first handheld cellular mobile phone was demonstrated by John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973, using a handset weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 lb). The first commercial automated cellular network (1G) analog was launched in Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in 1979.

How did Robert Hooke discover the cell? ›

The invention of the microscope led to the discovery of the cell by Hooke. While looking at cork, Hooke observed box-shaped structures, which he called “cells” as they reminded him of the cells, or rooms, in monasteries. This discovery led to the development of the classical cell theory.

What was Robert Brown's cell theory? ›

In 1833, Robert Brown discovered the nucleus of the cell (basically, the house in our analogy). Hence, some cells had walls, others didn't, but they all had jelly and they had a nucleus. This nucleus became very important to figure out how cells lived and died.

Who discovered the dead cell? ›

Robert Hooke discovers dead cells using early microscope.

Who discovered blood cells? ›

In 1661, 1664 and 1665, the blood cells were discerned by Marcello Malpighi. In 1678, the red blood corpuscles was described by Jan Swammerdam of Amsterdam, a Dutch naturalist and physician. The first complete account of the red cells was made by Anthony van Leeuwenhoek of Delft in the last quarter of the 17th century.

Which is the smallest cell? ›

Mycoplasma gallicepticum is the smallest cell. Mycoplasma's size is 0.2–0.3 μm. Mycoplasma are the smallest living organisms on the earth.

Who is the father of microscope? ›

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723): father of microscopy.

What was the first known cell? ›

That one cell is called the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). It probably existed around 3.5 billion years ago. LUCA was one of the earliest prokaryotic cells. It would have lacked a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles.

What was the first cell on Earth? ›

That one cell is called the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA. It probably existed around 3.5 billion years ago. LUCA was one of the earliest prokaryotic cells. It would have lacked a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles.

What are 5 facts about cells? ›

  • The facts about cells.
  • Cells are too small to see without a microscope.
  • There are two main types of cells.
  • Prokaryotes were the earliest and most basic forms of life on Earth.
  • There are more bacteria in the body than human cells.
  • Cells contain DNA.
  • Cells contain structures called organelles which have specific roles.
Oct 18, 2017

Which 3 scientists came up with cell theory? ›

The three scientists that contributed to the development of cell theory are Matthias Schleiden, Theodor Schwann, and Rudolf Virchow.

Who discovered the largest cell? ›

Robert Hooke discovered the cell. the largest cell is the egg of ostrich. Cell is discovered by Robert hooke. the largest cell of living world is the egg of ostrich.

What are the 4 main scientists that helped create the cell theory? ›

1 Answer. Hooke, Schleiden, Schwann, and Virchow contributed to the evidence for the cell theory, and the tenets of the cell theory.

Who named the cell? ›

In the 1660s, Robert Hooke looked through a primitive microscope at a thinly cut piece of cork. He saw a series of walled boxes that reminded him of the tiny rooms, or cellula, occupied by monks. Medical historian Dr. Howard Markel discusses Hooke's coining of the word "cell."

Why is the cell theory so important? ›

cell theory is crucial for understanding Biology because the basis of all life is the cell. It helps us to understand and prove the origin of cells; that they only arise from preexisting cells. It enables us to understand why there are both unicellular and multicellular organisms.

What are the 3 principles of cell theory? ›

1) All organisms are made of cells. 2) All existing cells are produced by other living cells. 2) All existing cells are produced by other living cells. 3) The cell is the most basic unit of life.

Where were cells first identified? ›

Soon after Robert Hooke discovered cells in cork, Anton van Leeuwenhoek in Holland made other important discoveries using a microscope.

How was the cell wall discovered? ›

Cell wall was discovered by Robert Hooke, in 1665, when he saw an empty box like compartments in a very thin slice of cork under his microscope. He wrote a book Micrographia and coined the term Cellula which was later on changed into cells.

Who discovered the first dead cell? ›

Robert Hooke discovers dead cells using early microscope.

What did Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discover? ›

Leeuwenhoek is universally acknowledged as the father of microbiology. He discovered both protists and bacteria [1]. More than being the first to see this unimagined world of 'animalcules', he was the first even to think of looking—certainly, the first with the power to see.

Who were the first cells? ›

The first cells were most likely primitive prokaryotic-like cells, even more simplistic than these E. coli bacteria. The first cells were probably no more than organic compounds, such as a simplistic RNA, surrounded by a membrane.

Which was the first cell to appear on Earth? ›

Every living thing can be traced back to the first cell on earth: a single-celled microorganism called a prokaryotic cell. Prokaryotic cells are thought to have originated on earth following a series of events that combined several organic compounds with the right environmental factors.


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