Timeline of microscopy

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This is a timeline of microscopy, describing important events in the history and development of the technology.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
13th century The development of lenses in eyeglasses probably leads to the wide spread use of simple microscopes (single lens magnifying glasses) with limited magnification.[1][2]
14th century Spectacles are first made in Italy.[2]
16th century Zaccharias and Hans Janssen develop what might be considered the first microscope.
17th century Before the century, almose no one suspected there was life too small to see with the naked eye, with fleas thought to be the smallest possible form of life.[3] Johannes Kepler is generally considered by neuroscentists as the first to recognize that images are projected, inverted and reversed by the eye's lens onto the retina.[4] By the mid 17th century Robert Hooke and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek take the microscope to new levels of development.[2]
18th century Looking through lenses becomes very popular, with many having a microscope when able to afford.[5]
19th century Achromatic microscopes are invented in the first half of the century.[5] By the late 1800s, effective illumination sources develop, opening the way for the modern era of microscopy.[6]
20th century Early in the century, a significant alternative to traditional light microscopes is developed using electrons rather than light to generate an image.[6] The first electron microscope is invented by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska, blasting past the optical limitations of the light. By the late 1930s, electron microscopes with theoretical resolutions of 10 nm are designed and produced.[7] The second major development for microscopes in the 20th century is the evolution of the mass market.[2] The first commercial transmission electron microscopes are marketed in the 1950s.[6] The 1960s through the 1990s produce many innovative instruments and trends on electron microscopy.[7] In the 1970s, sufficient information on ultrastructural pathology becomes accumulated to allow the use of the electron microscope as a diagnostic tool.[8] In the 1980s, the first scanning probe microscopes are developed and are closely followed by the invention of the atomic force microscope.[6]
21st century Dino-Lite Digital microscopes, a series of handheld digital devices, become one of the more original innovations in the new century.[2]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Location
~700 BC Technological development Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians start polishing quartz crystals as an attempt to replicate optical habilities of water. The Nimrud lens is on of the most famous examples.[4][2] Egypt, Irak
167 BC Technological development Simple microscopes made of a lens and a water-filled tube to visualize the unseen are developed in China.[9] China
100 AD Technological development Glass is invented and the Romans looking through the glass and test it, discovering that if helding one of these “lenses” over an object, the object would look larger.[10]
~1000 AD Technological development Chinese elderly monks use the reading stones, which are considered the first vision aids.[11][12][13][2] China
~1021 AD Literature (book) Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham writes his Book of Optics, the result of investigations based on experimental evidence. The book would eventually transform how light and vision are understood.[14][15][2] Middle East
1267 Scientific development English philosopher Roger Bacon suggests the idea of the telescope and the microscope.[3] United Kingdom
1284 Technological development Italian inventor Salvino D'Armati is credited with inventing the first wearable eye glasses.[2][11] Italy
14th century Technological development Spectacles are first made in Italy.[2] Italy
1590 Technological development Dutch spectacle makers, Zaccharias Janssen and his father Hans develop telescopes and what is considered the first microscope, while experimenting with several lenses in a tube, including the first practical microscope with a magnification range of three times to nine times.[16][10][17][18][19] Netherlands
1609 Technological development Italian scientist Galileo Galilei develops a compound microscope, with a convex and a concave lenses both fitting into a tube.[5][2][20] Italy
1619 Technological development Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel presents in London the earliest recorded description of a compound microscope. The instrument ia about eighteen inches long, two inches in diameter, and supported on 3 brass dolphins.[21][22][23]
1624 Technological development A compound microscope is exhibited in Rome.[24][25] Italy
1625 Literature (book) Italian scientist Federico Cesi publishes his Apiarium, perhaps the first scientific work to which the microscope is applied systematically.[26] Italy
1625 Scientific development German papal doctor Giovanni Faber first coins the name microscope.[27][28][2][6] Germany
1665 Scientific development English physicist Robert Hooke observes living cells and publishes Micrographia, in which he coins the term ‘cells’ when describing tissue. The book outlines Hooke's various studies using the microscope.[2][3]
1675 Scientific development Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek manages to use a microscope with one lens to observe insects and other specimen. Leeuwenhoek is the first to observe bacteria.[2][3]
1830 Technological development British physicist Joseph Jackson Lister develops a method to construct lens systems avoiding the effects of spherical aberration.[29][30][31] United Kingdom
1830 Technological development Achromatic microscopes are invented.[5]
1833 Scientific development Scottish scientist Robert Brown becomes the first to describe his observation of the nucleus in plant cells.[5] United Kingdom
1839 Organization The Royal Microscopical Society is founded in London.[32] United Kingdom
1841 Literature (journal) The Journal of Microscopy is first published by the Royal Microscopical Society.[33] United Kingdom
1850s Technological development American scientist John Leonard Riddell at Tulane University, develops the first practical binocular microscope.[34][35][36]
1863 Technological development English microscopist Henry Clifton Sorby pioneers the use of metallurgical microscope for investigating the microstructure of a variety of materials.[37][38] United Kingdom
1860s Scientific development German physicist Ernst Abbe discovers the Abbe sine condition, a breakthrough in microscope design, which until then was largely based on trial and error.[39] Germany
1878 Scientific development Ernst Abbe develops a mathematical theory linking resolution to light wavelength.[2] Germany
1879 Scientific development Using the microscope, German biologist Walter Flemming discovers cell mitosis and chromosomes, a scientifc achievement recognized as one of the most importants of all time.[2]
1880 Technological development The first microtomes begin to be used enabling significantly thinner samples to be prepared in order to improve sample.[2]
1893 Technological development German professo August Köhler achieves an almost perfect image by designing a new method of illumination which uses a perfectly defocused image of the light source to illuminate the sample. The now called Kohler illumination turns an unparalleled illumination system. Using double diaphragms, the system provides triple benefits of a uniformly illuminated specimen, a bright image and minimal glare. [2][16] Germany
1897 Scientific development American physicist R.W. Wood describes the phenomenon of the field emission of electrons, the process of emitting electrons from an extremely small area of a cathodic surface in the presence of a strong electric field.[27] United States
1900 Technological development The theoretic limit of resolution for visible light microscopes (2000 Å) is reached.[2]
1903 Technological development Austrian-Hungarian chemist Richard Zsigmondy develops the ultra-microscope, which allows the study of objects below the wavelenght of light.[2][11] Austria
1904 Technological development Carl Zeiss introduces the first commercial UV microscope with resolution twice that of a visible light microscope.[2]
1924 Scientific development French physicist Louis de Broglie develops his theory showing that particles have wave properties and very short wavelenghts. This discovery would allow the development of the electron microscope.[27] France
1927 Scientific development German physicist Hans Busch demonstrates that a suitably shaped magnetic field could be used as a lens to create electron microscopes.[27] Germany
1928 Scientific development Irish physicist Edward Hutchinson Synge publishes his theory underlying the near-field scanning optical microscope.[40][41][42]
1931 Technological development German physicist Ernst Ruska along with Max Kroll at the Berlin Technische Hochschule develop the transmission electron microscope.[8][43][44][45] Germany
1932 Technological development Dutch physicist Frits Zernike invents the phase-contrast microscope, which allows for the first time the study of transparent biological materials. By using interference rather than absorption of light, transparent samples, such as cells, can be imaged without having to use staining techniques.[2] Netherlands
1935 Technological development The first scanning electron microscopes are introduced.[6]
1936 Scientific development German physicist Erwin Wilhelm Müller applies the principle of field emission of electrons to a negatively charged very fine tip of tungsten wire in the high vacuum of a cathode-ray tube. In this field-electron microscope, Müller obtains a pattern on the fluorescent screen that represents the array of atoms.[27]
1936 Technological development German physicist Erwin Wilhelm Müller invents the field emission microscope.[43][2][46][47] Germany
1936 Scientific development Russian scientist Sergei Jakowlewitsch Sokolow proposes a device for producing magnified views of structure with 3-GHz sound waves, giving birth to the notion of acoustic microscopy.[48] Russia
1937 Technological development German physicist Manfred Von Ardenne in Berlin produces the earliest scanning-transmission electron microscope.[7] Germany
1938 Technological development Cecil Hall, James Hillier, and Albert Prebus at the University of Toronto, working under the direction of Eli Burton, produce the advanced Toronto Model electron microscope that would later become the basis for Radio Corporation of America's Model B, the first commercial electron microscope in North America.[7] Canada
1938 Technological development Ernst Ruska at Siemens produces the firt commercial electron microscope in the world.[2] Germany
1938 Technological development Canadian-American scientist and James Hillier designs and builds, with Albert Prebus, the first successful high-resolution electron microscope in North America.[49] Canada
1939 Technological development Siemens launches the first commercial electron microscope.[4] Germany
1930 Scientific development Dutch physicist Frits Zernike discovers he can view unstained cells using the phase angle of rays, and invents the phase contrast microscope.[2][50] Netherlands
1942 Technological development Ernst Ruska improves on the transmission electron microscope (previously buil by Knoll and Ruska) by building the first scanning electron microscope (SEM) that transmits a beam of electrons across the specimen.[2]
1942 Literature (book) Canadian physicist Eli Franklin Burton and W.Kohl publish The Electron Microscope.[51]
1942 Organization The Microscopy Society of America is founded.[52] United States
1944 Technological development Electron microscopes with theoretical resolutions reduced to 2 nm are introduced.[7]
1949 Organization The German Society for Electron Microscopy is founded.[53] Germany
1948 Organization The Nordic Microscopy Society is founded in Stockholm.[54] Sweden
1949 Organization The Swiss Society for Optics and Microscopy is formed.[55] Switzerland
1951 Technological development German physicist Wilhelm Müller invents the field ion microscope and becomes the first to see atoms.[3][47] Germany
1951 Organization The International Federation of Societies for Microscopy is founded.[56]
1953 Recognition Frits Zernike is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his demonstration of the phase contrast method, especially for his invention of the phase contrast microscope.[57]
1955 Technological development Polish physicist Georges Nomarski publishes the theoretical basis of Differential interference contrast microscopy. An optical microscopy technique used to enhance the contrast in unstained, transparent samples.[58][59][60] France
1956 Organization The Italian Society of Microscopical Sciences is founded.[61] Italy
1957 Technological development American cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky patents the principle of confocal imaging. Using a scanning point of light, confocal microscopy gives slightly higher resolution than conventional light microscopy and makes it easier to view ‘virtual slices’ through a thick specimen.[2]
1957 Organization The Belgian Comitee of Electron Microscopy is founded.[62] Belgium
1959 Scientific development Dunn and Fry perform the first acoustic microscopy experiments, though not at very high frequencies.[63]
1962 Scientific development Osamu Shimomura, Frank Johnson and Yo Saiga discover green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. GFP fluoresces bright green when exposed to blue light.[64][2]
1965 Organization The Israel Society for Microscopy is founded.[65] Israel
1965 Technological development The first commercial scanning electron microscope becomes available.[6]
1967 Technological development Erwin Wilhelm Müller adds time-of-flight spectroscopy to the field ion microscope, and develops the atom probe field ion microscope.[47][47] United States
1970 Technological development Korpel and Kessler begin to pursue a scanning laser detection system for acoustic microscopy.[66]
1971 Organization The Turkish Society for Electron Microscopy is founded.[67] Turkey
1972 Technological development English engineer Godfrey Hounsfield and South African physicist Allan Cormack develop the computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanner (later known as CT scan). With the help of a computer, the device combines many X-ray images to generate cross-sectional views as well as three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures.[2][68][69][70]
1974 Technological development R. A. Lemons and C. F. Quate at the Microwave Laboratory of Stanford University develop the first scanning acoustic microscope.[71] United States
1975 Organization The Microscopical Society of Ireland is established.[72] Ireland
1976 Organization The Committee of European Societies of Electron Microscopy is founded.[73]
1978 Technological development German scientists Thomas and Christoph Cremer design a laser scanning process which scans an object using a focused laser beam and creates the over-all picture by electronic means similar to those used in scanning electron microscopes.[74][2]
1981 Technological development German physicist Gerd Binnig and Swiss physicist Heinrich Rohrer develop the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), used for imaging surfaces at the atomic level.[75] The STM ‘sees’ by measuring interactions between atoms, rather than by using light or electrons. It can visualize individual atoms within materials.[2]
1986 Recognition The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded jointly to Ernst Ruska (for his work on the electron microscope), along with Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer (for the scanning tunnelling microscope).[2]
1986 Technological development An early digital microscope is made by Japanese company Hirox.[76] Japan
1986 Technological development Gerd Binnig, Christoph Gerber and Calvin Quate introduce the atomic force microscope (AFM).[77][6]
1988 Technological development Alfred Cerezo, Terence Godfrey, and George D. W. Smith introduce the atom probe tomograph, making it able to resolve materials in 3-dimensions with near-atomic resolution.[78][79][80]
1988 Technological development Japanese scientist Kingo Itaya invents the electrochemical scanning tunneling microscope.[81]
1991 Technological development The Kelvin probe force microscope is invented.[82][83][84]
1991 Scientific development Japanese physicist Sumio Iijima discovers the presence of carbon nanotubes in soot produced by vaporization of carbon in an electric arc. The finding would spark interest in carbon nanostructures and their applications.[43] Japan
1992 Technological development American molecular biologist Douglas Prasher reports the cloning of green fluorescent protein (GFP), opening the way to widespread use of GFP and its derivatives as labels for fluorescence microscopy (particularly confocal laser scanning fluorescence microscopy).[2] United States
1993–1996 Technological development German physicist Stefan Hell pioneers a new optical microscope technology that allows the capture of images with a higher resolution than was previously thought possible. This results in a wide array of high-resolution optical methodologies, collectively termed super-resolution microscopy.[2]
1995 Literature (journal) Scientific journal Microscopy and Microanalysis is established.[85] United States
1998 Organization The European Microscopy Society is founded.[86]
2010 Technological development Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles use cryogenic electron microscopy to see the atoms of a virus.[2]
2013 Technological development The Arriscope (surgical microscope) is presented to the public in a prototype version.[87] Germany
2014 Recognition The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”, allowing microscopes to now ‘see’ matter smaller than 0.2 micrometres.[2]

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