8 Dec 2022
by Brian J Ford

infocus #68 December 2022 Seeing what Leeuwenhoek saw

Friday 26 August 2023 marks the tercentenary of the death of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the founder of microbiology. After three centuries, you might think that everything about his life and work has long since been discovered, but mysteries remain.


Even his name is controversial: he was christened Thonis, not Antony, and many people still spell his name Antoni though Leeuwenhoek’s biographer Clifford Dobell pointed out in 1932 that the spelling in Dutch Antonij can be rendered only as Antony in English. American scholars invented Anton, a convention unknown in Europe, and Antonie – not a name he’d have recognised – occurs in numerous standard sources, including Wikipedia, the Science Museum, and even Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is said that Leeuwenhoek himself decided to add ‘van’ to give his name higher social status, though his uncle was using van Leeuwenhoek as the family surname back in 1628.