The History of Antique Microscopes

Like a lot of discoveries, the origin of the microscope is not entirely clear whom it should be attributed to.  There are three people who have been said to be the inventor of the first microscope.

On one hand there is Hans Lippershey, on the other hand it was the family Janssen. Lippershey is most well-known because he was the first to file a patent for the microscope. On the other hand the family Jansen have a background in making spectacles, which makes them logical inventors of the microscope.

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Whoever was the original inventor of the microscope, it changed a lot for mankind. Up to the discovery of the microscope, people couldn’t see things smaller than a grain of salt or sand. But with the discovery of the microscope, a whole new world opened up. Suddenly it was discovered that there are living organisms in our water and even on our skin! The impact on health care has been significant as micro-organisms could finally be seen and identified.

The Evolution of the Microscope

Although it is said that the first microscope was invented in the 1590s, scientists from various countries had in the earlier years found ways to magnify images. The magnification process may have been different and the quality of the images not as clear, but the work of these scientists served as a foundation that led to the evolution of microscopes.

The single-lens

The invention of spectacles is linked to two Italians, Salvano d’Aramento Degli Amati and Alessandro Della Spina. Alessandro was open about his invention and the process, while Salvano kept his invention a secret. Salvano died in 1284, about 33 years before Alessandro’s death. Unfortunately, the reasons behind the absence of documentation of Salvano’s work remains unknown.

The water microscope

Although the information on this microscope is scanty, it is linked to ancient Chinese scientists. They used a tube with a lens on one end. In a bid to produce images with varying clarity, the water poured into the tube were of different levels. This microscope was invented about 4000 years ago. However, the clarity of the object viewed through the lens was quite impressive, considering the standards then.

The Compound Microscope

The compound microscope has a rich history with several scientists linked to its invention and advancements in the later years. Although the Jansen’s invented it, other scientists in the following years made improvements on the magnification.

The first compound microscope used two lenses. One lens (objective lens) was close to the object. Its purpose was to produce the image. The second lens, which was referred to as the eyepiece, magnified the image picked up by the objective lens.

In 1595, the Janssen’s further improved the compound microscope by adding a third lens and using three sliding tubes. Each of these tubes was linked to lenses with different magnifying abilities. This microscope is presently in the Middleburg Museum. This microscope magnified images up to nine times the original size of the object.

When he was a youth, Robert Hooke was fascinated with objects and the mechanical make-up of the microscope. He observed several organisms, including lice, plants, and fleas. He was also curious about snowflakes. Although the magnifying power of the compound microscope was impressive, the images were blurry. Galileo Galilei and Robert Hooke improved on the work started by the Jansen’s in 1609 and 1665 respectively.

In the 1670s, the microscope had a single lens that could magnify up to 270 times the size of the object. This leap in the magnification power is credited to Antoine van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist. His effort is largely responsible for the identification of the bacteria that caused tuberculosis. This was a breakthrough for many physicians who were trying to understand the causes of some of the ailments. Leeuwenhoek studied the red blood cells, yeast, protozoa, bacteria, as well as human and dog sperm.

Electron Microscopes

Although the compound microscope was highly effective, some scientists wondered how they could make improvements on the already highly functional lens. In 1933, Ernst Ruska and his advisor Dr Max Knoll, an electrical engineer, invented the electron microscope. Ernst studied electronics in college, and this background helped him design a lens from the magnetic field with the use of electric current. No microscope, at the time, exceeded the magnifying limits introduced in the electron microscope.