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What’s So Special About Microscopes?

Find out all about microscopes, including the importance of microscopes and some of the most famous discoveries they’re responsible for.

importance of microscopes

Any scientist worth their lab coat will know the importance of microscopes. But to the rest of the population: why are microscopes important? What do they get used for? And, what are the most famous discoveries made with a microscope?

These are the questions we will be answering in detail right here. We’ll be zoning in on the microscope to bring you factual and interesting information on these exceptional lab instruments.

scientist-in-lab-with-microscope

A Brief History Of The Microscope

The history of the microscope stems back to the Egyptians and Romans who were trying to understand light. However, it was not until the 13th century when an Italian developed the eyeglass which really got us moving towards the microscope as we know it today. 

The microscope was invented in The Netherlands. However, there is a debate within historian circles of who the true inventor was. Improvements followed to enable the microscope to be used in medicine. These developments have allowed us to now own more sophisticated technology such as CAT scans.

 

Recommended Reading: In the market for a new microscope? We review the top models currently available.

Student studying with a microscope

So, Why Are Microscopes Important?

The importance of microscopes is evident. These pieces of equipment allow users to study cells, molecular structures, crystalline structures, microorganism and more.

In particular, they help us understand plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals. Without the ability to do this, science will be years behind where it stands today, and some valuable findings will never be known to mankind.

Another reason to back up the importance of microscopes is through its extensive uses. They are used within different branches of science and even further afield. Let’s find out more…

Microscope in a Scientific Research Laboratory

What Are Their Uses?

Due to the list of things that microscopes can look into, it’s fairly evident that they feature heavily in science, and specifically in biology. However, biology is a broad topic in itself. Microscopes can contribute to the different studies with biology such as genetics, evolutionary biology, cell theory and more.

In the last 100 years, the use of the microscope has expanded significantly in the medical fields too. They are used in medicine to analyze samples and help make diagnoses. Without them, it would be much more difficult to find out the causes of illnesses and treat patients swiftly to prevent their conditions worsening.

The further developments of the microscope, such as the aforementioned CAT scans, have contributed to medicine even more by allowing us to see the organs inside our body.

Using a microscope in the lab

Recommended Next: Take a look at the top microscopes for children in our latest guide.

 

Famous Discoveries With A Microscope

One of the biggest discoveries using a microscope is cells. Without a microscope, we would not be able to completely prove that cells exist.

 

Early Years and Cell Theory

In 1665, Robert Hooke used a primitive addition of the microscope we know today. With this instrument, he became the first person to witness evidence of cells. He saw these cells in a piece of cork and names them cells. The name was a shortening of the Latin term, cellulae, which was a word that meant small space.

Just five years later, Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek witnessed living cells for the first time in history. He is believed to have noticed the cells in water and in saliva first. He continued his work in making microscopes more powerful and went on to observe sperm cells and red blood cells.

During the early and mid 19th century, two more discoveries were made thanks to the microscope. Matthias Schleiden found that plants were made of cells and then in the same year Theodor Schwann discovered that animals were also made of cells.

It’s clear that the microscope helped us discover cells and their structure. It was the microscope that therefore contributed to the field’s renowned Cell Theory. This theory outlines that all living begins were made up of different structures of cells.

Microscope

Modern Day Research and Discoveries

In modern science and research, the microscopes that are being used have advanced to capabilities beyond belief. These microscopes are much more powerful than the ones used to first magnify the smallest structures on the planet. They can magnify cells even more to provide greater detail and understanding.

Due to their capabilities, they are often used in researching the world’s biggest medical conundrums. Specifically, the most powerful are used to make advancements in cancer research.

Cancer researchers often use very powerful microscopes to determine the make-up of cancer cells and other cells. They use autofluorescence to be able to distinguish the key differences and then use these differences to try and catch cancerous cells early.

 

A Nobel-Prize Worthy Microscope

Pioneers of a cryo-electron microscope won the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry. This microscope was again used to help research cancer. The microscope works by hitting the sample with an immensely powerful beam full of electrons (electrons meaning exceptionally small particles that whizz around the core of atoms).

In the past, this sort of beam was never used because it was believed that the power of it would damage molecules before being able to get data and a picture of them.

So, how did Dr. Richard Henderson and his colleagues manage to do it? The trick that they discovered was to freeze the molecules while blasting them with the beam. This made electron microscopy possible when others deemed it not.

The overall result is that we now have a microscope that allows us to discover more about cancer cells. Therefore, helping us to make bigger strides in finding a cure for cancer.

 

A Final Word

Here, we have learned about the history of the microscope and found that its true maker is still contested. We have also seen why microscopes are important and how they have had a huge hand in the development of Cell Theory.

Without them, we would not be able to see cells for ourselves and without the advancements made to the instrument, we would be lacking behind in pivotal research. Overall, the importance of microscopes is clear to see.

Let us know what you think down in the comments!

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