Who Invented Microscope?
The development of the microscope allowed scientists to make new insights into the body and disease. It’s not clear who invented the first microscope, but the Dutch spectacle maker Zacharias Janssen (b. 1585) is credited with making one of the earliest compound microscopes (ones that used two lenses) around 1600. The earliest microscopes could magnify an object up to 20 or 30 times its normal size.
For millennia, the smallest thing humans could see was about as wide as human hair. When the microscope was invented around 1590, suddenly we saw a new world of living things in our water, in our food, and under our nose.
But it’s unclear who invented the microscope. Some historians say it was Hans Lippershey, most famous for filing the first patent for a telescope. Other evidence points to Hans and Zacharias Janssen, a father-son team of spectacle makers living in the same town as Lippershey.
Janssen or Lippershey?
Hans Lippershey, also spelled Lipperhey, was born in Wesel, Germany in 1570, but moved to Holland, which was then enjoying a period of innovation in art and science called the Dutch Golden Age. Lippershey settled in Middelburg, where he made spectacles, binoculars, and some of the earliest microscopes and telescopes.
Also living in Middelburg were Hans and Zacharias Janssen. Historians attribute the invention of the microscope to the Janssens, thanks to letters by the Dutch diplomat William Boreel.
In the 1650s, Boreel wrote a letter to the physician of the French king in which he described the microscope. In his letter, Boreel said Zacharias Janssen started writing to him about a microscope in the early 1590s, although Boreel only saw a microscope himself years later.
Some historians argue that Hans Janssen helped build the microscope, as Zacharias was a teenager in the 1590s.
The invention of Glass Lenses
Long before, in the hazy unrecorded past, someone picked up a piece of transparent crystal thicker in the middle than at the edges, looked through it, and discovered that it made things look larger.
Someone also found that such a crystal would focus the sun’s rays and set fire to a piece of parchment or cloth.
Magnifiers and “burning glasses” or “magnifying glasses” are mentioned in the writings of Seneca and Pliny the Elder, Roman philosophers during the first century A. D., but apparently they were not used much until the invention of spectacles, toward the end of the 13th century. They were named lenses because they are shaped like the seeds of a lentil.
The earliest simple microscope was merely a tube with a plate for the object at one end and, at the other, a lens that gave a magnification of fewer than ten diameters ten times the actual size.
These exciting general wonders when used to view fleas or tiny creeping things and so were dubbed “flea glasses.”
Development of the First Microscope
About 1590, two Dutch spectacle makers, Zaccharias Janssen and his son Hans, while experimenting with several lenses in a tube, discovered that nearby objects appeared greatly enlarged. That was the forerunner of the compound microscope and of the telescope.
In 1609, Galileo, the father of modern physics and astronomy, heard of these early experiments, worked out the principles of lenses, and made a much better instrument with a focusing device.
In the late 16th century several Dutch lens makers designed devices that magnified objects, but in 1609 Galileo Galilei perfected the first device known as a microscope.
Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)
The father of microscopy, Anton van Leeuwenhoek of Holland, started as an apprentice in a dry goods store where magnifying glasses were used to count the threads in cloth.
He taught himself new methods for grinding and polishing tiny lenses of great curvature which gave magnifications up to 270 diameters, the finest known at that time.
These led to the building of his microscopes and the biological discoveries for which he is famous. He was the first to see and describe bacteria, yeast plants, the teeming life in a drop of water, and the circulation of blood corpuscles in capillaries.
During a long life, he used his lenses to make pioneer studies on an extraordinary variety of things, both living and non-living, and reported his findings in over a hundred letters to the Royal Society of England and the French Academy
Robert Hooke, the English father of microscopy, re-confirmed Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries of the existence of tiny living organisms in a drop of water. Hooke made a copy of Leeuwenhoek’s light microscope and then improved upon his design.
Charles A. Spencer
Later, few major improvements were made until the middle of the 19th century. Then several European countries began to manufacture fine optical equipment but none finer than the marvelous instruments built by the American, Charles A. Spencer, and the industry he founded.
Present-day instruments, changed but little, give magnifications up to 1250 diameters with ordinary light and up to 5000 with blue light.
Beyond the Light Microscope
A light microscope, even one with perfect lenses and perfect illumination, simply cannot be used to distinguish objects that are smaller than half the wavelength of light.
White light has an average wavelength of 0.55 micrometers, half of which is 0.275 micrometers. (One micrometer is a thousandth of a millimeter, and there are about 25,000 micrometers to an inch. Micrometers are also called microns.)
Any two lines that are closer together than 0.275 micrometers will be seen as a single line, and any object with a diameter smaller than 0.275 micrometers will be invisible or, at best, show up as a blur.
To see tiny particles under a microscope, scientists must bypass light altogether and use a different sort of “illumination,” one with a shorter wavelength.
Mechanical Improvements of microscope
During the 18th and 19th centuries, many changes occurred in both the housing design and the quality of microscopes.
Microscopes became more stable and smaller. Lens improvements solved many of the optical problems that were common in earlier versions.
The history of the microscope widens and expands from this point with people from around the world working on similar upgrades and lens technology at the same time.
August Kohler is credited with inventing a way to provide uniform microscope illumination that allowed specimens to be photographed.
Ernst Leitz devised a way to allow for different magnifications using one microscope by putting multiple lenses on a movable turret at the end of the lens tube.
Looking for a way to allow more light-spectrum colors to be visible, Ernst Abbe designed a microscope that in a few years would provide Zeiss with the tools to develop the ultraviolet microscope.
Modern Technology Improving Microscopy
The invention of the microscope allowed scientists and scholars to study the microscopic creatures in the world around them.
When learning about the history of the microscope it is important to understand that until these microscopic creatures were discovered, the causes of illness and disease were theorized but still a mystery.
The microscope allowed human beings to step out of the world controlled by things unseen and into a world where the agents that caused disease were visible, named, and, over time, prevented.
Charles Spencer demonstrated that light affected how images were seen. It took over one hundred years to develop a microscope that worked without light.
The first electron microscope was developed in the 1930s by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska.
Electron microscopes can provide pictures of the smallest particles but they cannot be used to study living things. Its magnification and resolution are unmatched by a light microscope.
However, to study live specimens you need a standard microscope.
Scanning probe microscopy allows specimens to be viewed at the atomic level which began first with the scanning tunneling microscope invented in 1981 by Gerd Bennig and Heinrich Rohrer.
Later Bennig and his colleagues, in 1986, went on to invent the atomic force microscope bringing about a true era of nano research.
The history of the microscope spans centuries, however, Leeuwenhoek’s first design has remained unchanged since the 1600s.