Forces and Motion

The puzzle of Hooke’s law

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 IOP RESOURCES

When Hooke first announced his spring law, in 1676, he published it in the form of an anagram, giving the letters: cediinnoopsssttuu. Two years later, he gave the answer to the puzzle – the letters can be rearranged to spell: Ut Pondus sic Tensio, or as the extension, so the weight. The use of anagrams was seen as a technique for protecting ideas: a coded theorem could be sent out to colleagues to establish a dated record of the discovery, without giving away the idea before publication in full.

As his income was modest, Hooke worked as Robert Boyle’s assistant while he was studying at Oxford and was employed to tutor Boyle in mathematics. Perhaps as a result of his work with Boyle, Hooke appears to have conflated the phenomena of compression of gases and of springs. At one point in his writing he argued that air could be used to demonstrate his ‘Rule or Law of Nature’ and he presented ‘A Table of the elaftic [sic] power of the Air’. In other places in his work he appears to have been aware of the mathematical differences between the two contexts.


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