Ceaseless motion: William Harvey’s experiments in circulation

William Harvey (1578–1657) was an anatomist and physician with an insatiable curiosity about the inner workings of all living creatures. Harvey lived through an extraordinary age of scientific revolution, to which he would contribute with his own discovery on the heart and blood circulation.

Within his London home, Harvey conducted countless experiments and observed the beating hearts of many animals, including dogs, eels, crows and even wasps. As an anatomist, he was able to dissect the bodies of hanged men, in the anatomy theatre at the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1628, after 10 years of painstaking solitary research, Harvey at last published his discovery in a book, known as De motu cordis. His idea, that blood is pumped around the body by the heart in a state of ceaseless motion, proved highly controversial to some, challenging 1,500 years of established scientific and medical belief.

Harvey encouraged his fellow physicians ‘to search and study out the secrets of nature by way of experiment’. His legacy of curiosity, research and discovery has had a lasting impact on the practice and science of medicine.

 

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