Microscope timeline: evolution from the lenses

Its history begins with the invention of lenses, the first microscopes, to later use light sources to clarify microscopic structures, which were unknown to men and women at that time. It was no longer enough to increase the size of the letters on the old folios, but rather to take a closer look at insects, crystals and plant fibers.

Invented the compound microscope, piece by piece, and model after model, it was necessary to optimize microscopy techniques for the analysis of increasingly complex samples. As the microscope and the quality of the images obtained evolved, more doors and possibilities opened in the field of medical, biological and nanotechnological research.

The evolution of the microscope is the same evolution of the human eye to see what is beyond its limited vision in microscopic terrain.

710 BC

The Nimrud lens, which was a convex disc of rock crystal, was used in the Assyrian empire to magnify images, and also to concentrate the rays of the sun in order to light a fire.

167 BC

The Chinese invented a contraption, the first approach to immersion microscopy, which consisted of a tube filled with water and lenses to magnify the images.


The first magnifying glass appears, which consisted of a glass sphere with which readings were expedited. Its inventor is unknown.


Al-Haytham publishes his Book of Optics, where he relates light to vision and image formation, as well as describing how glasses work.

Thirteenth century

During the 13th century, lenses were refined to obtain relative magnifications. What are known as simple microscopes was born. In that same century, more precisely in 1284, the Italian Salvino D’Armate invented the first glasses.


The first model of the compound microscope appears, invented by two Dutch eyeglass manufacturers: Zacharias Janssen and Hans Martens. Its creation served as inspiration for the development of the first telescopes, since its model had a tube through which light traveled, very similar to the one that current microscopes still maintain.


Galileo Galilei invents a kind of microscope-telescope made up of concave and convex lenses with which he studied small objects, such as celestial bodies seen in the sky.


Dutch inventor Cornelis Drebbel designs his own microscope by assembling it with two convex lenses for the respective objective and eyepiece.


Giovanni Faber coins this new ‘microscope’ image magnification device. This is when the compound microscope begins to be talked about. That same year two Italian scientists, Francesco Stelluti and Federico Cesi, published the first illustrations observed under a microscope.


The parts of the microscope: objective and eyepiece, are coined by Antonius Maria Schyrleus from Rheita.


In these years the illustrations of the tissues observed under the microscope progress. In addition, Henry Power designs the first model of transmitted light microscopy by placing samples on thin sheets of glass.


Robert Hooke observed the cells of a cork sample, coining for the first time the basic units of life. His work and illustrations are published in the book Micrographia .


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, while working with a simple microscope, developed lenses capable of magnifying the image 200 times its size. He also invented techniques to polish said lenses, with which he was able to observe and analyze blood, microbes and insects. Leeuwenhoek practically laid the foundations for microbiology.

End of the 17th century

In the last three decades of the seventeenth century the microscope was incorporating some characteristics, such as a mechanism to control the light that illuminates the sample, two monoculars (a binocular), the slide and a compound eyepiece (Huygens eyepiece). The latter, the work of Christiaan Huygens, addressed the wave nature of light.

Development of the compound microscope

Century XVIII

In this century the conventional image of the microscope of teaching laboratories was forged. The tripod first appeared, in 1725, thanks to Edmund Culpeper. Then an achromatic lens succeeded it, the creation of Jan van Deyl in 1770. And finally, the revolver came, in 1776 by Jeremiah Sisson, a kind of rotating wheel where several objectives are placed.


Joseph Jackson Lister solves the problem of imperfect images caused by achromatic and spherical aberrations. For this he built a set of lenses separated from each other by a short distance, which, although their power of magnification was weak, could correct the images of the microscope.


The polarized light microscope invented by William Henry Fox Talbot appears.


The first approach to microphotography occurs, after Charles Louis Chevalier combines the operation of daguerreotypes with those of the microscope.


Carl Zeiss founds the Carl Zeiss AG company, which manufactures industrial quantities of microscopes and optical instruments.


John Leonard Riddell invents the first functional microscope with binoculars.


Ernst Abbe, the Carl Zeiss company research director, creates a mathematical formula with which he can calculate the maximum resolution of a microscope. In it, said resolution is related to the wavelength of light, laying the foundations of modern optics.

Late 18th century

The lenses of compound microscopes increase in quality, as well as better light sources are developed.

Modern microscopy


The ultramicroscope, invented by Richard Adolf Zsigmondy, appears, taking microscopy to new levels.


Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll build the first transmission electron microscope (TEM), which uses beams of electrons and not photons to visualize samples.


Frits Zernike creates a phase contrast microscope that is able to visualize transparent bodies, such as cells, without the need to stain them.


The scanning electron microscope (SEM) appears thanks to the invention of Manfred von Ardenne.


The confocal microscope is invented thanks to Marvin Minsky.


The tunnel effect microscope (STM) is invented thanks to Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, with which it is possible to reproduce 3D images at atomic scales.


The world of materials is revolutionized with the emergence of atomic force microscopy (AFM), thanks to the microscope invented by Gerd Binnig, Quate and Gerber.


The microscope is an artifact that has progressively evolved over the centuries to the present

From 1990 onwards, new microscopes (for example, cryogenic ones) have been invented, all with the aim of further improving the resolutions achieved, as well as being able to work with increasingly complex samples inherent to active research fields. such as those of nanotechnology, biomedicine and the physics of materials.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button