SlideShow: Early microscopes offered sharp vision

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Early microscopes offered sharp vision

Flea seen with 18th-century microscope

Credit: B. Ford

The image (left) of a flea on display at the University of Cambridge’s Whipple Museum for the History of Science (Wh.0080), taken with an eighteenth-century microscope, suggests that these devices weren’t up to much. But with careful attention to lighting, Brian Ford achieved a sharper and more detailed image with a replica of a microscope from this period (right).

Elder cells viewed with Leeuwenhoek microscope

Credit: Museum Boerhaave Leiden / B. Ford

This image of the cells of an elder tree viewed through one of Antony van Leeuwnhoek’s microscopes displayed by the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands (left), doesn’t do his instruments justice. A much finer image can be obtained using another of Leeuwenhoek’s original microscopes (right).

Flea seen with Hooke microscope.

Credit: IWC Media, Zodiak Media Group / R. Hooke / B. Ford

The British television series Genius of Britain showed an image of a flea (left) using one of Robert Hooke’s microscopes that left one wondering how he ever discerned the details he depicted in his 1665 book Micrographia (centre). But a single-lensed microscope like that used by Hooke can in fact do far better (right), even resolving the tiny hairs on the flea’s appendage.

Freshwater 'animalcules'  viewed with Leeuwenhoek microscope.

Credit: BBC / B. Ford

A sample of pond water viewed through a replica of a microscope like that used by Leeuwenhoek, as shown on the BBC television series The Cell (left), does little to reveal the ‘animalcules’ that Leeuwenhoek described. But another replica of his instrument can, with careful use, clearly show the single-celled organisms he discovered (right).

Plant cells as seen by Hooke

Credit: BBC / B. Ford

Plant cells were first reported by Robert Hooke, who gave them their name. In the BBC television series The Story of Science, these cells were barely visible in the reconstructions of his observations (left), and it was claimed that nothing better was possible until staining was developed. But proper attention to focus and aperture allows the instruments used by Hooke and his contemporaries to reveal cells very sharply (right).