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Lenses Through the Centuries

By Cathryn Delude // Fall 2013
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Microscope view of a fly's eye

Wellcome Images

1665

Robert Hooke publishes Micrographia, an account of his observations of a fly’s eye, seeds, plant sections and cork. He coins the word cell.

Portrait of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Getty Images

1674

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek grinds lenses fine enough to detect sperm cells and bacteria in droplets of water.

1858-1882

The first stains and fluorescent dyes are developed and used to distinguish features in cells.

Photograph of August Köhler

1893

August Köhler works on perfecting optimal illumination of specimens, substantially improving resolution and evenness along the full field of view.

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Early 1930s

Frits Zernike develops phase contrast microscopy, allowing him to see unstained cells.

1933

Ernst Ruska develops the electron microscope, which improves resolution of a nonliving object's structure to the level of atoms.

Microscopic image

Wellcome Images

1980s-1990s

Confocal microscopy and two-photon microscopy provide the ability to view samples with unprecedented resolutions.

1990s

Roger Tsien's work on fluorescent proteins, for which he wins a Nobel Prize, opens a new era in cell biology.

2000

Stefan Hell develops stimulated emission depletion, using a donut-shaped beam of light to restrict emission from the beam scanning the sample, breaking the diffraction limit of light for optical microscopy.

2000

Mats Gustafsson develops structured illumination microscopy, which reconstructs an object beyond the diffraction limit by illuminating the sample with multiple interfering beams.

Microscopic image with photoactivatable fluorescent proteins

Courtesy of Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz

2002

Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz develops photoactivatable fluorescent proteins, with increased fluorescence and improved power to mark and track selected molecules over time.

2006

Eric Betzig and Harald Hess develop photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), exploiting the ability of optical microscopy to compile composite images below the diffraction limit.

Stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy image

Courtesy of Xiaowei Zhuang

2006

Xiaowei Zhuang develops stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM) to break the diffraction limit using a method similar to PALM but with photoswitchable fluorescent dyes.

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In Finer Focus

Microscopic image

Bringing never-before-seen structures into view, today’s microscopy is dispelling cartoon concepts and answering unanticipated questions.

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