Jan Swammerdam

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Related to Jan Swammerdam: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Swammerdam, Jan

(yän vä`mərdäm), 1637–80, Dutch naturalist. He was a pioneer in the use of the microscope. Before he turned to religious contemplation his chief interest was the study of invertebrates. He investigated the life histories of frogs and of numerous insects, which he classified on the basis of their metamorphic development. He also made valuable observations on human anatomy and was probably the first to detect red blood cells (1658). A composite collection of his descriptions and of his accurate and exquisitely executed drawings was published posthumously (2 vol., 1737–38) and appeared in English as The Book of Nature (1758). He was an early and influential proponent of the theory of evolutionevolution,
concept that embodies the belief that existing animals and plants developed by a process of gradual, continuous change from previously existing forms. This theory, also known as descent with modification, constitutes organic evolution.
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, in opposition to the current belief in spontaneous generation.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Swammerdam, Jan


Born Feb. 2, 1637, in Amsterdam; died there Feb. 15, 1680. Dutch naturalist.

Swammerdam graduated from the University of Leiden in 1663. In 1667 he defended his dissertation on respiration in animals. His main works dealt with human and animal anatomy; his animal studies centered on insects, although he also studied mollusks, amphibians, and other animals. Swammerdam proposed classifying insects by subdividing them into four groups based on the characteristics of their metamorphosis. He supported the theory of preformation and rejected the possibility of spontaneous generation. He introduced a new preparation technique, developed many instruments used in making preparations, and performed the first intravascular injection. Swammerdam designed instruments to record cardiac output, respiratory movements, and muscular contractions following the stimulation of a nerve.


Historia insectorum generalis. Utrecht, 1669.
Bybel der Natuure, vols. 1–2. Leiden, 1737–38.


Kholodkovskii, N. A. Ian Svammerdam. Berlin, 1923.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Ovists, including Marcello Malpighi and Jan Swammerdam, argued that a miniature human was housed within each female egg (then recently described by William Harvey); spermists such as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Nicolas Hartsoeker argued that each sperm contained little people, or homunculi.
The scene includes a group of European intellectuals, a laconic Dutch naturalist named Jan Swammerdam and a silkworm.
And Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680), a prominent scientist, and Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), a prosperous statesman and geographer, had well-known collections as well.