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William Harvey - By his discovery of the circulation of the blood, Harvey revolutionized physiology which had been based on the assumptions about how materials flow through the blood vessels

William Harvey


He is the first to describe correctly and in detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped to the body by the heart. Many doctors still relied on Galen for much of their knowledge, but Harvey liked to experiment. Harvey experimented on animals to prove that Galen was wrong, proving the same blood circulated around the body. In 1628 he published his work so anyone could do his experiments. His ideas gave birth to modern medical practices like transfusions. Harvey contemplated a vast research programme on the motions of the heart , respiration , animal locomotion and generation, the functions of the brain and various other topics , but only his work on the heart and on generation of animals actually came out in print in Latin in 1628.


More importantly, his work was one of the major triumphs for modern science , as it helped to generate the enthusiasm for science. Harvey proved his theory on the pathway of blood flow and that blood impelled mechanically by pump-like action of the heart. He measured the amount of blood in any given unit of time , which was one of the first applications of quantitative methods in biology.


Harvey’s doctrine of the primacy of the blood, which he had already begun to develop when he wrote his lecture notes in 1616, can be summarized as follows:


All other parts of the body originally receive life from the blood, and thereafter the blood continues to be the main repository of heart and vitality ; its constant circulation through the body serves not only to nourish all other parts but also to sustain their heat , spirits , conceptive powers , sensibility and contractility . Thus the blood alone is truly alive per se , and the rest of the body is an appendage that serves the blood and lives by virtue of it.


The first English edition of Harvey’s 72 page book on “The motions of the Heart and Blood “appeared in 1653. It was a landmark in the field of science.