The History of the Microscope

Quite a noble invention came to light during the Renaissance: the microscope. It is an object which can increase the size of small objects when seen through one or more lenses. In 1590 two Dutch men, Zaccharias Janssen and his son, observed that by increasing the number of lenses in a tube, the observed object became incomparably bigger. The work that awakened the interest of the scientists towards the microscope was “Micography” by Hooke, published in 1665. It was not just the precision in the observations that decreed the success of the book but also the use of beautiful and detailed illustrations. The story of the microscope took an unexpected turn when it met Anthony Van Leeuwenhoeck, a rich textile trader. Self-taught, he reached an unpassed ability in cutting lenses, obtaining enlargements that were much more superior that those obtained by other microscopists. In the summer of 1674 Leeuwenhoeck passed by a pool and decided to study the greenish water under his lens. He was amazed to find that the water contained an enormous quantity of minute beings. Leeuwenhoeck published his observations. They were the first works in which protozoans and bacteria are described and they had an enormous success. From this research the road slowly moved towards a methodical and rigorous use of the microscope. Thanks to this extraordinary instrument, cells were observed for the first time by Hooke and were recognised during the first half of the Nineteenth century as being the fundamental elements of living material. The improvements made since then, the insertion of electric light, condensators, only helped to improve the vision of the observed object. With the invention of the electronic microscope in 1930 in Germany, incredible enlargements have been reached. Today the microscope is an irreplaceable instrument in the laboratory, and has become the symbol of scientific research.