The microscope is an invention without which we wouldn’t be here today. Not only it helped us discover just how incredibly fascinating the microcosmos can be, but it also allowed us to live longer, more exciting and healthier lives. It allowed us to detect the tiny microorganisms that cause disease in humans and it taught us how to get rid of them.
So this begs the next question. Who invented the microscope and why? And the answer we crave is not as simple as we’d like because its origins are disputed between several names in our history. The earliest prototype, if we can even call it that, dates back to the Ancient Roman era, where the Romans used a particular type of glass that magnified objects when you looked through it.
But that was a rudimentary innovation, and it was an accidental discovery that didn’t have any purpose behind it. But then history took another turn when Salvino D’Armate, an Italian scientist created the world’s first eyeglass. But this smart device could only magnify about 5x to 10x and was mostly used to observe larger things such as insects, flowers, and fleas.
The Netherlands and its geniuses
Then something unusual started to happen in the 1590’s, when two Dutch citizens, Zacharias Jansen, and his equally creative father began using lenses in a new way that wasn’t previously experimented with. What they did was that they put a few lenses in an elongated tube, and realized that this organization was about to change the world.
They have realized that the tiny thing at the end of their tube seemed somehow much larger than in real life, much more than a single lens could enlarge something by itself. They didn’t comprehend at that time what would be the implications of this discovery, but it didn’t stop them, and it didn’t curb their enthusiasm in any way.
Although the images obtained with this exciting machine were somehow blurry, they were still enough to impress the public with, since both of them were spectacle men. Unfortunately, none of their microscopes have survived to the modern day, and we only know about them indirectly through a description found in the archives of the Dutch royalty.
Knowing all of this information, we still can’t say the Jansen family invented the microscope since their tools were just overly complicated magnifying glasses. What we call today a microscope is a compound microscope, which is a tool that features two or more lenses, interconnected via a hollow cylinder. The top piece is called an eyepiece or the ocular, and the bottom one is the objective lens.
The first pioneer
Most people attribute the invention of the modern microscope to another Dutch person called Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was a 17th-century scientist who pioneered microscopy. He was the first out of his peers to create and to successfully use a real microscope. His lenses were renowned because they were highly polished and far more superior than the ones of his contemporaries.
His microscope could magnify up to 270x, and it was capable of viewing objects smaller than one-millionth of a meter. Since he was a scientist, he didn’t just make the microscope, but he used it too. Under his polished lenses, he analyzed bacteria, yeast, and even droplets of water. He described all of them and received many praises from the Royal Society of England, but also a few letters of disbelief, since what he talked about seemed so outlandish.
Now or never
Of course, the Dutchman’s innovative work soon begun to get the attention of scientists all over the world, especially since he was translated into English by Robert Hooke, who published Micrographia in 1665, which is believed to be the first study regarding microscopy.
Hooke is another genius, who took this subject to a whole new level by reinvigorating microscopy and by taking biology into the future.
Modern compound microscopes are indispensable from all laboratories today. And not only that, but they have also have reached into the mainstream, and now anyone who has an interest in science and the intricacy of the world owns one.
A good microscope for students will let you see the mind-blowing detail of any ordinary object, and it will make you a much richer person because you get to be one of the few lucky ones who know that there is more to life than what meets the eye.