Science Factsheet - William Harvey - Discovery zone - Living Paintings

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Science Factsheet – William Harvey

Portrait of William Harvey, a man with grey hair, chin beard and mustache, with a large white shirt collar over a black coat.

Name: William Harvey

Field of science: Anatomy (body) and physiology

Born: 1st April, 1578 in Folkstone, England, died 3rd June, 1657, London

Best known for: William Harvey was the first person to correctly describe blood’s circulation in the body. He showed that arteries and veins form a complete circuit that starts at the heart and leads back to the heart.

How did he find this out? Harvey ignored medical text books, making his own observations from experiments and dissections of animals. He noted how blood flowed through the veins and arteries of living animals that he cut open. Now, we may think of this practice as cruel, as at the time there was no anaesthetic. Nevertheless, it is how we arrived at an understanding of blood and its circulation in the body.

Anything else? Before Harvey’s discoveries, Western doctors still believed that the liver was the source of blood movement around the body, not the heart; a theory that had advanced very little since Greek physician, Galen wrote his medical textbooks some 1400 years earlier!

Any famous quotes? “All we know is still infinitely less than all that remains unknown”

You might find this interesting: During the 16th century, Europe was ruled by mysticism, specifically, the belief that evil witches lived among the people. As an esteemed doctor, Harvey was called upon to examine the bodies of four women accused of witchcraft. At the time it was thought that suspicious marks e.g. any odd lump or bump on the body, were confirmation of the accused’s association with the devil. Always one to keep an open mind, Harvey took a more scientific approach to his examinations and found no so-called “devil marks” on the bodies of the accused. They were all later found to be innocent.


Encyclopaedia Britannica. William Harvey.

BBC History. William Harvey.

Famous Scientists. William Harvey.

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