Nicolaas Hartsoeker (1656-1725)
AuthorLawrence, Cera R.
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Nicolaas Hartsoeker, a Dutch astronomer, optics manufacturer, and naturalist, was born 26 March 1656 in Gouda, Netherlands, and died 10 December 1725. His mother was Anna van der Mey and his father was Christiaan Hartsoeker, a prominent evangelical minister. His major contribution to embryology was his observations of human sperm cells, which he claimed to be the first to see under a microscope. His sketch of the homunculus, a tiny preformed human he believed to exist in the head of spermatazoa, is his lasting scientific legacy in the field of embryology. This sketch was only a minor part of his first publication, Essai de Dioptrique (1694), which dealt primarily with the use of optical lenses in science. In subsequent years the sketch became iconic of the theory of embryological development known now as preformationism. Hartsoeker himself was a vocal adherent of spermist preformationism and is often cited as the originator of the idea.