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Older Than You Think! A Brief History of Microscopes.

white microscope

It has aged quite well. 

The microscope is centuries old. In the early writings of Roman philosophers, they mention “burning glass” which sounds like they were onto something big. The first invention to enhance small object observation was made in the late 1300s when two lenses were placed at opposite ends of a tube. This prototype launched what we know as the microscope. 

The Early Microscope History

During the 13th century, grinding glass for spectacles (glasses) and magnifying glasses was standard. In the late 16th century, Dutch lens makers designed devices that could magnify objects. In 1609, everything changed. Galileo perfected what was named the microscope. 

The compound microscope was invented by Dutch spectacle makers Zaccharias Janssen and Hans Lipperhey. They realized that placing different types and sizes of lenses on opposite ends of the tubes enlarged small objects. 

A New Discovery

In the late 16th century, while polishing and grinding lenses, Anton Van Leeuwenhoek discovered that specifically-shaped lenses increased an image’s size. His glass enlarged objects several times their size. The visual quality made it possible to see items at a microscopic level. Animals, bacteria, and the intricate details of everyday objects never before seen by the human eye were now clear and visible. Leeuwenhoek’s discovery made him the founder of microscopy, and his work was vital to developing cell theory. 

The Achromatic Lens

One hundred years passed before the microscope had its next significant improvement and solved a problem. Early models allowed light to refract when passing through the lenses, altering what images looked like rather than just enhancing their size. The achromatic lens, created for eyeglasses, improved the visual acuity of the microscope. 

Other Improvements

Changes abounded during the 18th and 19th centuries for the microscope in terms of housing, design, and quality. They became more stable, smaller, and visual acuity continued to improve. 

Several people contributed to its modern-day evolution. August Kohler invented uniform illumination allowing specimens to be photographed. Ernst Leitz figured out how to use different magnifications by putting multiple lenses on a turret that rotated at the end of the lens. Ernst Abbe discovered how to allow more light-spectrum colors to become visible. His design later led to the development of the ultraviolet telescope. 

Modern Microscope Technology

Thanks to the thinkers and inventors who saw ways to enhance its primitive design, the microscope has allowed scholars and students to study and discover the world around them. We can now see what was once unseen, which has led to the discovery of species, understanding bacteria, and cures for disease. Science––the world––is a better place thanks to the abilities and improvements of the microscope.

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