History of a Microscope

  • The first microscope

    The first microscope
    Two Dutch spectacle-makers and father-and-son team, Hans and Zacharias Janssen, create the first microscope. When Zacharias Jansen was experimenting with spectacle lenses. After aligning several lenses and placing them in a tube they discovered that this magnified a specimen while looking through it. This very first microscope had a magnification of only about 9x.
  • The publishing of Micrographia

    The publishing of Micrographia
    Micrographia, published in 1665, is a historic book written by Robert Hooke documenting his observations through different lenses. He was among the first to make significant improvements to the basic design.
  • Living cells first seen

    Living cells first seen
    Antonie van Leeuwenhoek builds a simple microscope with one lens to examine blood, yeast and insects. He is the first to describe cells and bacteria. He invents new methods for making lenses that allow for magnifications of up to 270 times.
  • Microscope magnification

    Microscope magnification
    In the late 17th century Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented a microscope with the capability to magnify at 270x, this became known as the first "real" microscope. This microscope allowed him to see bacteria, blood, yest plants, and life in water.
  • Spherical aberration solved

    Spherical aberration solved
    Joseph Jackson Lister reduces spherical aberration by using several weak lenses together at certain distances to give good magnification without blurring the image.
  • Abbe equation

    Abbe equation
    Ernst Abbe writes a mathematical formula that correlates resolving power to the wavelength of light. Abbe’s formula makes it possible to calculate the theoretical maximum resolution of a microscope.
  • Transmission electron microscope

    Transmission electron microscope
    Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll design and build the first transmission electron microscope, based on an idea of Leo Szilard. The electron microscope depends on electrons, not light, to view an object.
  • Phase contrast microscope

    Phase contrast microscope
    Frits Zernike develops phase contrast illumination, which allows the imaging of transparent samples. By using interference rather than absorption of light, transparent samples, such as cells, can be imaged without having to use staining techniques.
  • Scanning electron microscope

    Scanning electron microscope
    Ernst Ruska builds the first scanning electron microscope, which transmits a beam of electrons across the surface of a specimen.
  • Confocal imaging principle

    Confocal imaging principle
    Marvin Minsky patents the principle of confocal imaging. Using a scanning point of light, confocal microscopy gives slightly higher resolution than conventional light microscopy and makes it easier to view ‘virtual slices’ through a thick specimen.
  • Green fluorescent protein discovered

    Green fluorescent protein discovered
    Osamu Shimomura, Frank Johnson and Yo Saiga discover green fluorescent protein in the jellyfish Aequorea Victoria. GFP fluoresces bright green when exposed to blue light.
  • First CAT scanner

    First CAT scanner
    Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan Cormack develop the computerised axial tomography scanner. With the help of a computer, the device combines many X-ray images to generate cross-sectional views as well as three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures.
  • Electron backscatter patterns observed

    Electron backscatter patterns observed
    John Venables and CJ Harland observe electron backscatter patterns in the scanning electron microscope. EBSP provide quantitative microstructural information about the crystallographic nature of metals, minerals, semiconductors and ceramics.
  • Confocal laser scanning microscope

    Confocal laser scanning microscope
    Thomas and Christoph Cremer develop the first practical confocal laser scanning microscope, which scans an object using a focused laser beam.
  • Scanning tunnelling microscope

    Scanning tunnelling microscope
    Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invent the scanning tunnelling microscope. The STM ‘sees’ by measuring interactions between atoms, rather than by using light or electrons. It can visualize individual atoms within materials.
  • The cloning of GFP

    The cloning of GFP
    Douglas Prasher reports the cloning of GFP. This opens the way to widespread use of GFP and its derivatives as labels for fluorescence microscopy.
  • Super-resolution microscopy

    Super-resolution microscopy
    Stefan Hell pioneers a new optical microscope technology that allows the capture of images with a higher resolution than was previously thought possible. This results in a wide array of high-resolution optical methodologies, collectively termed super-resolution microscopy.
  • Atoms of a virus seen

    Atoms of a virus seen
    Researchers at UCLA use a cryoelectron microscope to see the atoms of a virus.
  • The modern microscope

    The modern microscope
    Some microscopes can even be used to observe an object at the cellular level, allowing scientists to see the shape of a cell, its nucleus, mitochondria, and other organelles. While the modern microscope has many parts, the most important pieces are its lenses.