In the year 1676, a Dutchman named Anton van Leeuwenhoek made some of the most important scientific discoveries of all time. Leeuwenhoek discovered how to grind, polish, and layer small lenses on top of each other, and he thus assembled them in a way that enabled magnification of objects up to 270 times original size—a method of magnification that we now call microscopy. Using this method, Leeuwenhoek was able to observe a complex world that was present in a mere droplet of water. In these magnified environments, the Dutchman discovered the shapes of bacteria, blood cells, yeast, and microscopic nematodes.
Leeuwenhoek further immersed himself in scientific study, and by the time of his death in 1723, he had become an expert in animal reproduction and plant anatomy. Today, we revere him both as the “Father of Microscopy” and the “Father of Microbiology.” But before he earned those two monikers, Leeuwenhoek actually made his bread as a textile merchant. In fact, one of the first applications he had for magnifying lenses was using them to count individual threads in a woven cloth. This goes to show that microscopy is a highly adaptable field—and that the advancements in the technology benefit a multitude of disciplines.
Read on for a briefer on some of the vital applications of microscopy, some notes on the people who use microscopes in their day-to-day tasks today, and some insight on how microscopic technologies have evolved in recent years.
Microscopy is a core process in biotechnology, a field preoccupied with harnessing cellular and bio molecular processes in order to develop new, beneficial products for people. For this purpose, biotech labs are now seeing common use of microscopes aided by precision motion components. These enable swift, accurate detection and imaging of the microorganisms being studied. Highly modern microscopes enable highly accurate and precise translation of optical components down to the level of microns, ensuring proper focusing on the specimen being investigated.
Life and medical sciences
Those who work in the life and medical sciences do depend on
advanced microscopy to properly study complex biological systems. Some newer microscopic
technologies currently being utilized in the life and medical sciences are
photonic (light-based) microscopic imaging and ultrasound-enabled methods for
high-resolution imaging. These have moved life scientists several steps forward
in closely observing their subjects at the molecular and cellular levels.
Microscopes are also key implements in the earth sciences.
For example, geologists employ polarizing microscopes to study the polarization
characteristics of materials such as rocks, crystals, and asbestos. Microscopy
aids in the work of classifying the earth’s materials, deducing how these
materials are formed, and deciding how best to conserve the earth’s
Modern microscopy has also served to advance forensic
science, which involves applying scientific methods and processes in order
tosolve crimes. The job of a forensic scientist is to recreate the timeline of
a criminal act, and to isolate any traces a criminal has left behind. This
wouldn’t be possible for them to do without their primary analytical tool, the
microscope. One powerful new microscope type that is used in forensic labs is
the stereo microscope/dissecting microscope, which enables low magnification
and 3D imaging of samples.
Microscopy is just as necessary to industrial applications as they are to the “hard” scientific disciplines. People who work with microscopes in an industrial setting include materials scientists, who study plastic and polymers used for manufacturing. Tasks such as industrial-level quality assessment are made easier by opto-digital microscopy, which combines optics with the use of digital cameras.
If scientist and tradesman Anton van Leeuwenhoek were alive today, perhaps he’d celebrate how progressive and versatile modern microscopic technologies have become. Cheers to microscopy, and how it has helped us perceive things of importance that are beyond the naked eye.