The day the microscope got it’s name


On this day, 13 April, back in 1625, Giovanni Faber (also known as Johannes Faber) first suggested the word ‘microscope’ for an enlargement viewing device developed by Galileo Galilei in order to see tiny objects that are too small for the naked eye (Galilei himself called it an ‘occhiolino’ or ‘little eye’). Faber used the term in a letter to Federigo Cesi, founder of the Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynx) in Italy, one of the earliest academies of science.

Once the term ‘microscope’ became accepted, this also resulted in the coining of the term ‘microscopy’ for the science of investigating tiny objects through a microscope. The term ‘microscopic’ is used for something that is too small to see unless viewed through a microscope.

Microscopes - impossible to imagine science without them. (© All Rights Reserved)
Microscopes – impossible to imagine science without them.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The microscope is another of those devices that is synonymous with science – it is impossible to imagine a scientific lab, and science in general, without microscopes. From the first optical microscopes (still in use), further developments and technological innovations led to the development of more powerful microscopes including the electron microscope (using electrons rather than light to generate an image) and scanning probe microscopes such as the atomic force microscope (AFM).

The AFM is an extremely high resolution device that can achieve a resolution of the order of fractions of a nanometer. The increased resolution achieved by this device opened up amazing new research possibilities in the nanosciences. To acknowledge this, the developers of the AFM, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer of IBM Research, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1986.

While only a very select few of us will ever have the opportunity to see one of these incredible pieces of scientific equipment, let alone experience using it, I am sure many out there remember the magical world that opened up when you got your first hobby microscope. I certainly remember the wonder of first getting to use a little microscope handed down to me by my dad – it was old and worn and not fancy at all, but man, was it amazing to look at anything and everything, from a fly’s wing to a drop of blood.

Did you have a microscope when you grew up?

Celebrating the inventor of the electron microscope

Today we celebrate the life and work of Ernst Ruska, who died on 27 May 1988 at age 81.

Ruska, a German electrical engineer, was the inventor of the electron microscope.  His fundamental research in the field of electron optics, and particularly his groundbreaking design of the electron microscope, earned him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1986.

In 1928, Ruska discovered that a magnetic coil could be used as a lens to focus an electron beam. By adding a second lens he produced the first rudimentary electron microscope, which had a magnification power of x17. Within the next 5 years, he refined the concept to such an extent that the magnification power of his microscope increased to x7000. This exceeded what was possible with visible light. The first commercial electron microscope was marketed in 1939. Since then, the technology has found applications in biology, medicine and many other areas of science.

The electron microscope – an important tool in scientific research.
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