Microscopes are one of the vital tools that have allowed science to leap forward in many fields, biology, medicine, and anatomy, just to name a few. The microscope gives humans the ability to study the very small. This view of a realm that is beyond our vision with the naked eye enables understanding of how new drugs work, the way genes are constructed, even how atoms bind together to form larger molecules.
It has been said that the scientist of today stands on the shoulders of giants. This is meant to signify that we have before us the body of thought and the work of the greats of the past who compiled the information and formulated the ideas we use to advance scientific fields. To reconstruct the work of a man such as Robert Hooke would take the average person a life-time. In a similar way, it is in microscope history that we see the development of this device that revolutionized science, and remains the most vital tool of many sciences.
The microscope as we know it was developed by a father and son team, spectacle makers named Zaccaria and Hans Janssen, who thought of lining up two lenses in a tube. This now over 400 year old arrangement has remained fundamental to the compound microscope. It had long been known that a glass crystal in the general shape of a lentil would magnify. But arranging two in line would magnify the magnification of an object to the point where a flea would appear to be as large as an elephant. A compound microscope works by bending light rays as they strike first one lens and then another. When the light rays pass from a specimen to the naked eye, the object appears much larger.
This arrangement was sufficient for many years, but by the 1900s scientists wanted to start viewing objects even smaller than the light compound microscope could possibly reveal. Objects can be so small that they can be missed between individual light waves. To solve this problem scientists developed the electron microscope. Electron beams have a much smaller wavelength than light. With an electron microscope, objects can be magnified up to 10,000 times, small enough to actually see atoms.
Yet because of the ease of use, low cost, and the clarity of magnified images (up to a certain limit), compound light microscopes are still prevalent, especially in fields such as biology, and anatomy. In viewing objects through a microscope, it is important to use proper procedure for mounting specimens. This helps to ensure easily manipulated, quality images.
A well-cared for microscope can last many years even with constant use. When transporting a microscope, grasp it by the handle and place another hand beneath the base. Walk carefully from one location to another. Don't touch lenses with your fingers. When it needs to be cleaned, use lens paper. When finished with use, put the microscope on the lowest magnification. Wipe away any spilled fluids. Cover the microscope between uses, so that when it sets for long periods the parts of the microscope not gather dust.
This short introduction to microscopes is meant as a table of contents to take you deeper into the "InDepthInfo on Microscopes" pages. For those readers and researchers who want to drill down, simply click on a link in the text. All of the pages on this site are also listed in the nav bar at the top of each page. To read through all the pages on microscopes in the manner in the order in which they were intended to be read, simply use the "next page" links at the bottom of each article:
Next Page: A Brief History of Microscopes