Studies On Muscular Contraction

In 1666 he arrived in Florence, Italy, by way of the Alps, where he was reminded of the seashell question. He was awed by the massive mountains and delighted to observe the rock strata firsthand. He was also pleased to find a group of similar-minded philosophers who thrived on experimental science. One of these men was Francesco Redi, the grand duke's physician. Redi had disproved spontaneous generation. People had thought that flies came to life from dung or rotting meat, but Redi showed that if the meat was covered with netting, then no flies appeared. Preexisting flies needed access to the organic matter to lay the eggs that developed into maggots. Redi was also a member of the Accademia del Cimento, a group devoted to experimental science. This group was sponsored by the grand duke of Tuscany, Ferdi-nando II de'Medici, and his brother Prince Leopoldo. The intelligent Medici brothers were not only formal philanthropists, but they actively participated in the experiments and the discussions of the Cimento. They generously provided materials for experiments and welcomed Steno into their association. The grand duke gave him an appointment as a physician at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, leaving him plenty of time to pursue independent research.

Steno had been working on a new line of research involving muscle contraction. Anatomists believed that muscles moved because something pushed on them, yet muscles seemed to contract on their own. How did this happen? It certainly was not the pineal gland. One hypothesis was that fluids rushed in, causing the muscle to swell. With support from other members of the Cimento, Steno pursued this problem. Geometrically, he showed that when a muscle contracted, it neither grew nor shrank. The overall volume was maintained though the shape of the muscle fibers changed by contracting. These results were published in Elements of Muscular Knowledge in 1667.

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