Why Do Scientists Use Microscopes

The microscope allows scientists to view very small objects that are not visible to the naked eye. Microscopes are used by doctors to see human tissue and to see germs, or bacteria, and viruses. Microscopes are also used to view the atom and the smallest particles of our universe.

Microscopes allow us to see inside small worlds that are beyond the capacity of regular, unaided human vision. Telescopes are a type of microscope in reverse, as they allow people to see large objects in space.

Invention of the microscope

A number of people contributed to the invention of the microscope over the centuries.

The first use of a type of microscope was by the Romans, who used glass to see tiny objects. The Romans noted that looking at objects through glass made those objects appear larger. In the 13th century, an Italian named Salvino D’Armate made an eyeglass that could magnify the view from one eye.

Later people would use microscopes to look at insects, so the first glasses used to magnify were called flea glasses. In 1590 two Dutch eyeglass makers, Hal and Zacharias Jansen, attached a few lenses to a tube and found that the object located at the end of the tube looked larger. (Telescopes use similar technology in reverse.)

The Jansens then made microscopes for entertainment. Owned by the Dutch royalty, these microscopes had a magnification of only about nine times. At the end of the 17th century, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, another Dutch scientist, was the first scientist to use a microscope for work. Leeuwenhoek knew of a superior way to grind his lenses, which granted better clarity. He also developed the ability to magnify up to 270 times.

Using his microscopes, Leeuwenhoek was able to look at bacteria, plant parts, organisms in water and blood circulation in capillaries. The first book published about microscope studies was Micrographia, published by the Englishman Robert Hooke in 1665.

Modern microscopes

Modern microscopes now use two eyepieces and are thus considered binocular. These microscopes have high power lenses and can magnify up to 1,000 times. Digital microscopes are also now in use.

The electron microscope works by using electrons to create an image. Electron microscopes can achieve much higher magnification than the more common light microscopes. These electron microscopes can magnify as much as two million times. They are used to look at microorganisms and cells and medical biopsies, and also are used in chemical analysis of metals.

The electron microscope originated with a prototype created by Ernst Ruska and is still used in many laboratories. Researchers also use electron microscopes to look at the structure of various elements. Because these microscopes can enlarge small particles, scientists can view the crystalline structure of elements through the lenses.

A scanning electron microscope creates a three-dimensional image and are used to detect the surface structure of a sample. Also, scientists use confocal laser-scanning microscopes to view high resolution images in three dimensions.

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