Microscopes play a critical role in modern medicine and the study of microorganisms. Students and experts use the devices to learn about the structure of cells and observe the smallest parts of fungi, animals, and plants. Historians have it that, before the invention of the microscope, people believed sickness was a punishment from supernatural sources. Here, we look at more fascinating microscope facts you probably didn’t know.

1. The Science of Using A Microscope Is Called Microscopy

Scientists use microscopes to observe tiny objects and structures using a form of science known as microscopy. Usually, the items are very tiny; they are not visible to the naked eye – they are described as microscopic. The magnified image of a studied sample is called a micrograph.

2. Different Forms of Microscopes Have Existed Since Time Immemorial

History shows simple microscopes such as magnifying glasses have existed since the 13th century. However, it took until around 1620 for the first form of a compound microscope, which combined an objective lens near a specimen with an eyepiece, to appear in Europe.

3. It Is Not Clear Who Invented the Microscope

Over time, many claims have been made regarding who first invented the microscope. The majority revolve around the Netherlands, majorly because it hosted some of the best spectacle-making centers at the time. Zacharias Janssen’s son claims his father was the first to invent this scientific equipment in 1590. Some sources say Zacharias’ father, Hans Martens, was responsible, while others say they created it together.

Other people considered in the microscope invention debate include Hans Lippershey (he also applied for the patenting of the first telescope), Cornelis Drebbel, and Galileo Galilei.

4. Giovanni Faber Coined the Word “Microscope”

The name microscope comes from the Ancient Greek word “mikros,” which means small, and “skopeo,” which translates to examine, inspect, or look at. Giovanni Faber, a German papal doctor and the curator of the Vatican Botanical Garden, is credited with coining the word “microscope” in 1625.

5. The First Person to View Chromosomes under a Microscope Miscounted

Today, we know the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes. However, it hasn’t always been like that. For about 3 decades after the first person discovered chromosomes under a microscope, scientists believed there were 24 pairs. The physician who made the invention made an error in counting them.

6. It’s Possible to View A Hard Drive’s Data under A Proper Microscope

Thanks to the growth of technology, some microscopes are sophisticated enough to read a hard drive’s data. Forensics can use this to read several layers deep and observe what was there before the data was probably deleted. However, this is not as straightforward today because of the high density and perpendicular recording techniques.

7. Sperms Were Discovered Through Microscopic Observation

Until 1677, nobody knew about sperms (the tiny bodies in semen). It was until Antony Van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch microscope maker, discovered them while observing his semen that the invention was made. This highlights one of the breakthroughs made because of the microscope’s development.

8. Different Types of Microscopes Are Available

Different methods of microscope classifications are available. For instance, they can be categorized based on how they interact with the sample to generate the image. Under this classification, we have light/photons, electrons, and scanning probe microscopes.

On the other hand, these instruments can be classified depending on whether they analyze the sample through a scanning point or all at once. Examples include transmission electron and wide-field optical microscopes.

9. Samples Are Sometimes Stained Before Viewing Under A Microscope

To enhance visibility, samples viewed under the microscope must be stained. The act improves the visualization of cellular components, making it easier to highlight metabolic processes or differentiate between live and dead samples.

10. Marcello Malpighi Is Considered the Father of Microscopic Anatomy

Marcello Malpighi was an Italian physician who discovered red blood cells and taste buds. His knowledge and prowess in using a microscope earned him the tag “father of microscopic anatomy.” He shaped a lot of what we have today.

11. Microscopes Help View Very Small Objects

Records show that the smallest object ever seen under a microscope measures 500 nanometers. To put this into perspective, a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. With a working device, you can view objects 200 times smaller than the width of human hair.

12. A Foldable Microscope Is Called A Foldscope

With a 140x magnification power and 2-micron resolution, a foldable microscope is efficient enough to help examine bacteria, single-celled organisms, and blood cells. Commonly referred to as a foldscope, this microscope has benefits such as affordability, portability, and accessibility.

13. Tears of Happiness and Those of Sadness Look Different under a Microscope

To the naked eye, tears are just that: tears. On the contrary, scientists say observing both tears of happiness and sadness under a microscope results in different structures.

14. A Stanford Student Invented the Foldscope

Manu Prakash, a scientist and professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, invented the foldscope in 2011. Following the invention, the school shipped over 50,000 pieces of the device to 130 countries to see what people would do with it. They cost less than a dollar at the time (2014).

15. Atoms Invisible Under A Light Microscope

Even though a light microscope can help observe an object measuring a nanometer, even smaller ones aren’t visible on the device. For instance, it’s impossible to see atoms under a light microscope because they are tinier than the amount the device can see. If anything, the smallest object we can see under a light microscope has over 10 billion atoms.

16. An Electron Microscope Was Used to Record A Movie for IBM

Popularly known as IBM, the International Business Machines Corporation once made headlines by recording a movie using an electron microscope. Their idea was to move atoms around while they recorded and told a story, much to the amusement of the viewers.

17. A Picture of A Woman Using a Microscope Caused A Stir In Canada

When the Canadian $100 banknote featured a picture of a woman using a microscope, the masses were agitated, claiming that it was stereotyping Indians as being good at technology. The photo was eventually replaced with that of a Caucasian woman; still, people complained. They thought Caucasians were also being favored.

18. The Microscope Was Once Referred to as “Flea Glasses”

After the invention of the earliest form of a microscope, scientists used the device to observe and study small insects. It, therefore, became known as a “flea glass.”

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Last Update: November 7, 2023