advertisement-vertical Download Proto magazine app
Social Icons

Lenses Through the Centuries

By Cathryn Delude // Fall 2013

Microscope view of a fly's eye

Wellcome Images


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


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


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

Photograph of August Köhler


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

<1 micron

Early 1930s

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


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

Microscopic image

Wellcome Images


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


In Finer Focus

Microscopic image

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

Protomag on Facebook Protomag on Twitter