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Although the microscope was invented early in the 17th century, it was not much used until Robert Hooke improved the instrument. Then Marcello Malpighi, Hooke, Nehemiah Grew and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek had a virtually untried tool in their hands as they began their investigations.
Working on frogs and extrapolating to humans, Malpighi demonstrated the structure of the lungs, previously thought to be a homogeneous mass of flesh, and he offered an explanation for how air and blood mixed in the lungs. Malpighi also used the microscope for his studies of the skin, kidneys, and liver. For example, after he dissected a black male, Malpighi made some groundbreaking headway into the discovery of the origin of black skin. He found that the black pigment was associated with a layer of mucus just beneath the skin.
He was the first to see capillaries in animals, and he discovered the link between arteries and veins. He may have been the first person to see this under a microscope. The microscope let Malpighi discover that insects (particularly, the silk worm) do not use lungs to breathe, but small holes in their skin called tracheae.
Because Malpighi had a wide knowledge of both plants and animals, he made contributions to the scientific study of both. The Royal Society in London published two volumes of his botanical and zoological works in 1675 and 1679. Another edition followed in 1687, and a supplementary volume in 1697. In his autobiography, Malpighi speaks of his Anatome Plantarum, decorated with the engravings of Robert White (1645–1703) as "the most elegant format in the whole literate world".
- Bolam, Jeanne. 1973. The botanical works of Nehemiah Grew F.R.S. (1641-1712). Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 27. 219-231.
- Arber, Agnes. Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) and Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694): an essay in comparison. Isis 34, 7-16.