....Optics Highlights

IV. The Microscope

The invention of the compound (twin lens) microscope sometime at the end of the sixteenth century or the beginning of the seventeenth, has been ascribed to the Dutch spectacle maker, Hans Jansen. The first great improvement was due to Robert Hooke who in 1665 replaced the eye piece with the twin-lens telescope eyepiece designed by Christaan Huygens . Hooke’s three-lens microscope is the basis for modern instruments. Because of chromatic aberration, which creates a variation of lens focal distance with wavelength, early compound microscopes could not equal the performance of the single, small lens used by the Dutch microscopist , Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. About 1800, achromatic lenses for microscopes became available and a lens design which resolved the problem of spherical aberration for microscopes was developed by Lister in 1830. A general theory of lens design was published in 1841 by Karl Friederich Gauss and many of the remaining limitations (spherical aberration, coma, etc.) were eliminated during 1870 - 1888 by the lens designs introduced by Ernst Abbe.
 
  Hans Jansen, a Dutch lensmaker in Middleburg, Holland, or his son, Zacharias, is usually given credit for the invention of the microscope about 1595. Earlier drawings of lens combinations do exist, but are impractical
Robert Hooke (1635 -1792) was born on the Isle of Wight where his father was a curate. He met Boyle at Oxford and first worked as his assistant. In 1635 he was appointed to a professorship at Gresham College in London where he remained for 30 years. There is no known likeness of Hooke; he was described as a "lean, bent and ugly man". He worked in mechanics, astronomy, and combustion. In optics, Hooke made an important series of microscope observation, was the first to build a Gregorian telescope, discovered diffraction, and was the first to describe thin film phenomena. He was the deputy to Wren in the rebuilding of London following the great fire of 1666; his task as city surveyor was to arrange for the rebuilding of houses. Hooke was one of the principal objects of Newton's animosity. Hooke claimed, with considerable justification, that he had suggested the inverse square law of gravitational attraction to Newton.
Christaan Huygens (1629 - 1695) is said to be less well known in his native Holland than his father, Constijn, a gifted poet and brilliant figure in the literary history of the Netherlands. Rembrandt, Hals, Spinoza and Descartes were family friends. The last had a profound influence on Huygens and drew him into mathematics and science. His astronomical discoveries, using a telescope based on improvements he introduced, had already made him famous when he went to Paris in 1665. He became a founding member of the French Academy and was granted a pension and an apartment. Most of his life thereafter was spent in Paris, except for a period in which he was forced from France by anti-Protestant emotion and for two years which he spent in England. He did meet with Newton; their conversations were not recorded. However, given his poor English and Newton’s temperment, it is not believed that their meetings had any significant outcome.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 - 1723) was a successful Delft haberdasher and dry goods merchant who devoted himself to the hobby of lens grinding and microscopy. In 1673 he began corresponding with the English Royal Society which published 375 of his papers over the next fifty years. His single tiny lens microscopes had magnifications of up to 300. Although they were difficult and tiring to use they were superior to the contemporary compound microscopes. He made hundreds of his instruments and gave many to his famous visitors, but only a handful have survived.
Karl Friederich Gauss (1777-1855), born to a poor family in Brunswick, Germany, was supported through the university by his patron, the Duke of Brunswick, became a professor at Gottingen and one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, contributing widely to mathematical theory. He also directed an astronomical observatory, made contributions to electromagnetism, geodesy, and gravitation. His theory of lenses ("gaussian optics") provided the mathematical basis for optical imaging theory.
Joseph Jackson Lister (1786 - 1869) was an English Quaker wine merchant and amateur microscopist who developed an improved lens system for microscopes in 1830. (Although achromatic telescope lenses had been available for decades, the small size of microscope lenses had made them impossible to correct.) Lister developed the spaced system of lenses which both corrects chromatic aberration and reduces spherical aberration. With this instrument, Lister was the first to observe the forms of mammalian blood cells. He was elected to the Royal Society. Lister’s son, Joseph Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery, was trained in microscopy by his father.
Ernst Karl Abbe (1840 - 1905), born in Eisenach, was a professor of mathematics and physics and director of the observatory at the University of Jena. He joined the Carl Zeiss optical company in 1866. His success in providing a scientific basis for microscope design led to the production of microscopes of unequaled capabilities, some of which are not matched by modern instruments. In 1876 he was made a partner in the firm and after Zeiss’s death in 1888, Abbe purchased the heir's interest in the business. Then he turned ownership over to a foundation. Abbe was a social reformer who introduced worker benefits in the firm which were revolutionary in his time. The company grew explosively due to Abbe's accomplishments in the design of optical and photographic equipment and due to the sponsorship of the Prussian government which recognized their military importance.
...Back to first page Next page....