As a very basic definition, microscopy is the use of microscopes to view samples. These are samples which would not be visible to the ‘naked’ eye, so the microscope is used to dramatically magnify the objects in question. Most people are familiar with the use of a microscope from a science class they had in school along the way, even if that was years ago. Of course, the microscopes used by professionals in this field are a far cry from what is used by the average class of school children.
A Long History
While it is a decidedly high-tech field these days, the use of microscopes actually dates back many, many years. Humans have been attempting to magnify small items for viewing for centuries, and the microscopes available today represent the best of what mankind has been able to develop. If not for the considerable efforts of individuals hundreds of years ago, microscopy may not have developed into the advanced field that it has become.
The Basic Concept
So, how does a microscope work? For something so technical, it is a decidedly simple concept. The idea is to move light through a sample, either sending it directly through the sample or reflecting it, and then through one or more lenses in order to be viewed. Once a magnified image of the sample is created, it can be utilized in many ways. It may simply be viewed by the microscopist, it may be captured digitally for viewing later, or captured with a photographic plate. No matter what the specific plan may be, the magnification makes it possible to view things on a scale that simply isn’t achievable with the human eye alone.
Understanding the World
The uses of microscopy are too diverse to even attempt listing in this article. There are virtually countless potential uses for a microscope, but they all come back to the same basic idea – seeking a better understanding of the world and how it works. Microscopes are used extensively in the medical field, of course, but that is just the start. Anytime meaningful research is being completed in a scientific field, it is virtually certain that microscopes are playing some kind of role along the way. So much of what we know about the world is owed to the use of microscopes, and only time will tell what other discoveries microscopy will make possible.
Just Another Tool
At the end of the day, microscopes are incredible tools – but they are just that, tools. And tools need to be used by capable, knowledgeable people if they are going to be effective. So, as a field, microscopy depends just as much on the people looking into the microscope as the device itself. Without the well-trained scientists and other individuals who have learned how to use the equipment, and learned what they are looking for, the microscope itself wouldn’t hold much value. It’s the bringing together of human and machine that makes great things possible in this field.