For those of you interested in seeing every detail about the world around you, the good the bad and in many cases the ugly, microscopes will give you that closer look. However, we are not the first to have this strong desire to know what lies just beyond what we can see. The history of microscopes dates back to a time before electricity, before the invention of lenses or any modern tool that we use in microscopes today.
The history of microscopes begins 1000AD with the invention of the first visual aid called a reading stone. A glass sphere was used to magnify reading materials to aid those who were losing their site. While this is just one part of a modern day microscope it goes to show that there has always been the desire to see things with a clearer eye. In the year 1284 Italian Salvino D’Armate took that very basic glass sphere, and used it to invent the first wearable eye glass.
In the year 1590 Zaccharias Janssen and his son Hans Janssen (eye glass makers) experimented with putting multiple lenses inside a tube. They observed that whatever they viewed through the tube appeared enlarged, creating the forerunner for the first microscope and telescope.
The next breakthrough in the history of microscopes came in the year 1674 when Anton Van Leeuwenhoek built a simple microscope and was able to see bacteria for the first time. Anton Van Leeuwenhoek also invented new methods of grinding and polishing lenses to give them a curvature, allowing for magnifications of up to 270 diameters, which at the time was the highest magnification.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that microscopes really came into power and were used by many scientists. Multiple lenses were used to reduce the “chromatic effect” - disturbing halos resulting from differences in refraction light. In 1872 Ernst Abbe, research director of the Zeiss Optical Works, wrote a mathematical formula known as the “Abbe Sine Condition.” This formula provided calculations to be made that allowed for maximum resolution in microscopes.
The 19th century was the time for making an amazing tool that much better. Richard Zsigmondy developed the ultramicroscope that allowed scientists to study objects below the wavelength of light. Frits Zernike invented the Phase Contrast microscope that allowed for the study of colorless and transparent materials. Ernst Ruska was the co-inventor of the electron microscope which depends on electrons rather than light to view objects. This amazing microscope makes it possible to view objects as small as the diameter of an atom.
In 1981 Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invented the scanning tunneling microscope, a microscope that gives three dimensional images of objects as small as the atomic level. This amazing microscope is the strongest microscope to date.
Over hundreds of years microscopes have evolved from a small glass sphere used to help with reading, into microscopes that can see objects and life on the atomic level. Microscopes are now used for finding cures to diseases, new life and many other amazing and life changing finds. There is no saying where we will be a hundred years from now or even a few days but microscopes will be part of that future.
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