Today, microscopes are something that everyone is familiar with and has probably used at least once in their lives. Microscopes allow us to see organisms and objects that are too small to see with the naked eye, which has brought about exponential benefits for people while revolutionizing science and medicine. When were microscopes invented, and who brought us this powerful tool?
Who Invented the Microscope and When
As with much of history, there is some debate as to who really invented the microscope. Often, inventions were developed in multiple places at the same time with little or no record of any exact date. Interestingly, the people most frequently credited with creating the microscope were living and inventing in the same place, the city of Middleburg in Holland.
It was the late 1500s, and Holland was experiencing what was called the Dutch Golden Age. An explosion of art, innovation, and science was happening, and many people were caught up in the movement.
A father and son duo, Hans and Zacharias Janssen were eyeglass makers by trade, so they knew their way around lenses. Today, Zacharias is usually credited with inventing the first compound microscope, but he was just a teen at the time, so most people believe that he was aided by his more-experienced father, Hans. This very first microscope is lost to time, as is the exact date it came into existence. That’s right, the answer to the question, when was the microscope invented, is unknown.
A clue to when microscopes were invented can be found in letters from William Boreel, a Dutch diplomat who wrote of the magnification device his long-time friends had invented. His letters suggest the microscope was invented in the early 1590s, but no specific date is mentioned. While the original microscopes are gone, there is a 1595 model in the Middleburg Museum in Holland.
What About the Hans Lippershey Microscope
Working simultaneously but separately in the same town of Middleburg Holland was Hans Lippershey. Lippershey was born in Wesel, Germany but later immigrated to Middleburg. He was also an optician and became a master lens grinder and incurable inventor.
In 1608 Lippershey submitted a patent for the microscope and a telescope he created which he called the Kijker, or the translation is the “looker.” The government of the Netherlands denied the patent because it was such a simple idea, but they then turned around and asked him to create several binocular telescopes for the government. Quickly, the idea took off, and many people were making microscopes and telescopes, including Galileo Galilei who became well known for his telescopes in 1609.
What is a Compound Microscope
The very first microscope was a compound microscope. A compound microscope uses two or more lenses to enlarge the image seen by the eyes. In the first microscope, there was one lens that served as the eyepiece and another that is called the objective lens. The objective lens has a longer focal length and is able to enlarge the image.
You can buy a compound microscope today, and they’re still used regularly in various scientific and other fields. Today’s version is much more complex, and many use two eyepiece lenses, one for each eye. This type of microscope is considered easy to use, simple to set up, and lightweight enough for moving them around or storage. They also come with their own light source, further enhancing the image.
Types of Compound Microscopes
The invention of the microscope only slightly preceded the invention of the telescope and both fields have exploded with different types of imaging and uses. Today, you’ll find a version of the original microscope in a variety of different fields. Some common compound microscopes used today include:
- Biological and clinical microscopes: Often found in classrooms or labs, biological and clinical microscopes are used to look at internal cellular structures.
- Phase contrast, fluorescence, polarizing microscopes: Making the most of lighting and contrasts, these microscopes are frequently found in labs, medical research, and the field of biotechnology.
- Inverted and metallurgical microscopes: Still working off the original compound microscope, these advanced optical tools are often used in industries like material science, metallurgy, fabrics and textiles, wafers, and composites.
- Teaching and student microscopes: Classroom favorites, these models frequently revert to the one eyepiece lens and are excellent ways to teach and learn about the field of microscopy.
The Future of Microscopes
No one knows exactly how microscopes will continue to evolve and change the way we see the world. Technology has brought advances that couldn’t have been imagined even thirty years ago, and it will continue to change as true 3D imaging becomes available and computers take over where the human eye cannot go.