Lesson 1 - Page 1




Alice curious over a small door

glass refracted light into colors

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll is a children’s story about a little girl named Alice that travels through Wonderland.  Alice’s perspective of the size of objects and how she deals with their associated problems is the interweaving theme of her adventures.  It is fitting that Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) was a mathematician and logician, who understood the nonsense that occurs when large and small worlds meet.  Viewing through a microscope is like going to Wonderland! 


Zacharias Janssen

The technology of microscopes began when people noticed that an object was enlarged as they looked through a thickened piece of glass or "lens."  The inventions of lenses probably corresponded to the invention of blown glass, prior to 2500 BC in Egypt and Babylonia.  Lenses that were used in items such as eyeglasses, were not documented until the 10th century by the Chinese.  Geometric optics was a flourishing science in ancient Greece using mirrors and lenses to learn about mathematical relationships.

The Greeks and Romans such as Pythagoras (582-507BC), Euclid (323-283 BC), Archimedes (287-212 BC), Diocles (240-180 BC) and Ptolemy (90-168 AD), all wrote about optical systems.   The science of glass blowing increased during  the first to third century.   An Arab, Ibn Al-Haitham (965-1039 AD), is credited with comparing lens systems with the human eye in his classic written work on optics, “Optics Thesaurus Alhazeni Arabius Basil.”  He discovered the laws of refraction and described shadows, eclipses, rainbows, and other physical phenomena of light.  His works were so important they were translated into Latin.

Evidence indicates that the microscope was probably crudely used during the 16th century.  It wasn’t until 1590 that Hans and Zacharias Janssen of Holland, developed the compound microscope.  They used a convex objective and a concave eyepiece to enlarge objects. 


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