Niels stensen was born on January 1, 1638, to sten Pedersen and Anne Nielsdatter in Copenhagen, Denmark. sten was a skilled goldsmith, and one of his regular customers was the Danish king. Niels suffered from an unknown illness from the age of three to six. As he recovered, his father died, leaving the family without a source of income. Anne remarried quickly, but her new husband died the following year. she did marry again, but Niels's childhood was quite unstable, foreshadowing the rest of his life. In addition, the mid-1600s was a rough period for Denmark. The Thirty years' War had ravaged Europe since its inception in 1618. Between 1654 and 1655, the plague stole the lives of one-third of the Danish population.
In the midst of all this, Niels received an education. He attended the Lutheran academy Vor Frue skole, which lost half its student population to the plague. As was common for educated people at the time, his name was Latinized to Nicolai stenosis, which has since been altered to Nicolaus steno. ole Borch taught steno Latin at Vor Frue, but Borch was interested in many subjects and was an admired physician as well. He is credited with pointing steno toward science. he performed many scientific demonstrations that impressed steno. The two men developed a friendship based on a common love of natural and experimental philosophy.
steno entered the university of Copenhagen in 1656 to study medicine. It was an unfortunate time to attend college, as the country went to war with sweden. Food and fuel were in short supply on campus. Many professors and fellow students had joined the war effort, leaving few students behind who essentially had to teach themselves. This was not a problem for steno, who read voraciously. During this time, he kept a journal titled Chaos. Much of what is known about steno's studies, inner struggles, personal characteristics, and reflections on literature were recorded in this journal.
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