Swammerdam, Jan

born Feb. 12, 1637, Amsterdam, Neth.
died Feb. 15, 1680, Amsterdam

Dutch naturalist.

An adept microscopist, in 1658 he became the first person to observe and describe red blood cells. In his General History of Insects he accurately described and illustrated the life histories and anatomy of many insect species and classified insects into four major divisions, three of which have been more or less retained in modern classification. He studied tadpole and adult frog anatomy and described the ovarian follicles of mammals. His improved techniques for injecting wax and dyes into cadavers had important consequences for the study of human anatomy. He showed that muscles alter in shape but not in size during contraction.

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▪ Dutch naturalist
baptized Feb. 12, 1637, Amsterdam
died Feb. 15, 1680, Amsterdam

      Dutch naturalist, considered the most accurate of classical microscopists, who was the first to observe and describe red blood cells (1658).

      Swammerdam completed medical studies in 1667 but never practiced medicine, devoting himself to microscopical investigations instead. Turning to the study of insects, he accurately described and illustrated the life histories and anatomy of many species. His observations of their development led him to separate insects into four major divisions, according to the degree and type of metamorphosis. Three of these divisions have been more or less retained in modern classification.

      During the period he devoted to exhaustive entomological research (1667–73), he completed A General History of Insects, popularly recognized as a major work at the time, and the Bible of Nature, one of the finest collections of microscopical observations ever published. In these works he corrected the physiologist Marcello Malpighi's (Malpighi, Marcello) conceptions of the insect brain and nervous system and opposed the physician William Harvey's (Harvey, William) inconsistent interpretation of insect metamorphosis. He also demonstrated the presence of butterfly wings in caterpillars about to undergo pupation.

      Studying the anatomy of the tadpole and the adult frog, he noted a cleavage in the egg and discovered valves in the lymphatic vessels, now known as Swammerdam valves. He described the ovarian follicles of mammals in the same year as the physician Reinier de Graaf (1672) and devised improved techniques for injecting wax and dyes into cadavers, which had important consequences for the study of human anatomy. His ingenious experiments showed that muscles alter in shape but not in size during contraction, contradicting the classic Greek physician Galen's popular theory that a material fluid passing through the nerves is responsible for the movement.

      After his father refused to continue his financial support, Swammerdam suffered extreme privations. Subject in the last years of his life to fits of depression, he sought relief by becoming a disciple of the religious enthusiast Antoinette Bourignon.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Swammerdam,Jan — Swam·mer·dam (sväʹmər däm ), Jan. 1637 1680. Dutch naturalist known for his pioneering microscopic research. He was the first to describe red blood cells (1658). * * * …   Universalium

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  • Jan Swammerdam — (February 12, 1637, Amsterdam February 17, 1680) was a Dutch biologist and microscopist. His work on insects demonstrated that the various phases during the life of an insect egg, larva, pupa, and adult are different forms of the same animal. As… …   Wikipedia

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  • SWAMMERDAM (J.) — SWAMMERDAM JAN (1637 1680) Naturaliste hollandais qui, bien que destiné à l’état religieux par son père, entre en 1663 à l’université de Leyde pour y étudier la médecine sous la direction notamment de Van Horne et de Le Boë. L’année suivante, il… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Jan — /jan/; for 1 also Du., Ger. /yahn/, n. 1. a male given name, form of John. 2. a female given name, form of Janet. * * * (as used in expressions) Brueghel Jan the Elder Jan Amos Komenský Dussek Jan Ladislav Eyck Jan van Gossart Jan Jan Mabuse Jan… …   Universalium

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