The Evolution of Microscopes: From Early Discoveries to Modern Advancements

The Evolution of Microscopes: From Early Discoveries to Modern Advancements

The human eye is a complex organ that enables us to perceive, understand and explore the world and beyond. It's rightly been called a "miracle of design" in our body. Yet this brilliant organ has limitations in seeing small molecules

Hence the discovery of the best microscope has served as a human's scientific third eye to know the unknown. This fantastic instrument has become a fundamental component in labs, classrooms, and workshops to see/ detect/ analyse cell structures and microorganisms.

Early development of microscopes

The history of microscopy begins with the craft of making glasses. It is believed that the first pair of eyeglasses was created in 13th-century Italy.

The convex lens was first created by the Venetians soon after the concave lens was developed by the Germans in 1451. The compound microscope, which would soon rock the scientific world, was made possible with these amazing new discoveries.

    • The birth of the first microscopes

In 1590 the two Dutch spectacle makers discovered that when several magnifying lenses were put inside a tube, the objects seen through the tube were larger. This idea resulted in the first microscope but the images produced by these microscopes were unclear, they were more of a novelty and not used for any form of scientific research.

    • The Magic of Galileo Galilei

During the same time, two Dutch spectacles manufacturers, Zaccharias Janssen, and Hans Lipperhey, said they had independently created a compound microscope.

They built this microscope using a combination of tubes and two lenses. The term "microscope" was extensively used in Europe during this time, around 1625 AD.

    • The Father of Microscopes

The first simple microscope was built by Anton Van Leeuwenhoek using a small, powerful lens. He had conducted extensive research on grinding and polishing glass to make curved glasses with significant magnification.

It is interesting to note that compound microscopes took 150 years to reach the same magnification as Leeuwenhoek's simple hand-made instruments. He came to be known as the "Father of Microscopes" after using his instrument to see bacteria in a drop of water in 1674.

The early years of the Modern Microscope

By the late 1800s, scientists had developed a type of microscope that was very close to the one used today. Charles A. Spencer, a leading scientist from New York who created the first achromatic objective microscope and began selling it in 1838, made contributions to this new phase of research.

The ultramicroscope, developed by Austrian chemist Richard Zsigmondy, is one such example that shake up the fundamentals of microscopy. He was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the Ultra Microscope.

Entering the phase of Modern Microscopy / Types of Microscopes

    • Electron Microscope

Many illumination sources alternative to light were developed in the early 20th century. A beam of electrons is used in electron microscopy to generate an image. Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska, two German physicists, created the first transmission electron microscope (TEM) in the 1930s.

    • Phase Contrast Microscope

The Phase Contrast Microscope, which enables the colourless and transparent materials at the microscopic level, was developed by Dutch physicist Frits Zernike. He won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Physics.

This cutting-edge development in microscopy allows researchers to study cells without staining them and allows scientists to see interior cell structures. The contrast-enhancing method is still commonly used in scientific studies today as it is suitable for studying living cells.

    • Scanning Tunnelling Microscope

The Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM), which can see surfaces at the atomic level, was developed by physicists Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer. It uses an ultrafine tip that can show an object's molecular and atomic details rather than a light or electron beam.

    • Super Resolution Microscopy

Stefan Hell's Super-Resolution Microscope, invented in 1996, overcomes many limitations by fusing a number of different optical techniques. Fluorescent microscopy, Super Resolution Optical Fluctuation Imaging (SOFI), and other technologies are included in the devices categorized under super-resolution.

    • Cryo-electron Microscope

In order to study biomolecules with great resolution, Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson created a unique Cryo-electron microscope.

A gentler electron beam that doesn't damage biological structures is used by the device, allowing for the visualization of proteins and DNA. In 2010, these instruments made it possible to see the atoms inside a virus. .

Final thoughts

From the earliest microscope to some of the most modern microscopic systems ever created, the evolution of the microscope has come a long way.

Modern best microscopes are not only highly technologically advanced, but they are also increasingly affordable for beginners and hobbyists who have an interest in science and microscopy.