It is impossible to imagine where cell biology would be without the invention of the light microscope. But what is now a complex network of lasers, optics and mechanics, started off as a simple brass plate, with a small glass sphere serving as an objective – while the only light needed was sunlight. And we have Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek to thank for that.
Back in 1673 van Leeuwenhoek, then a curious young trader, began to take an interest in lens making – and from there, microscopes. Developing his ingenuously simple contraption to zoom in on the micro-world, he stepped into a completely different dimension, discovering what he called “animalcules” – or as we know them today, microorganisms.
Fast-forward two centuries, and Carl Zeiss, struggling with his lens-making workshop, decided to switch to microscope making. A collaboration with physicist Ernst Abbe provided the spark for microscopy to take another giant leap. Abbe postulated the Abbe sine condition, which had to be fulfilled by a lens to produce sharp, undistorted images. Calling in glass chemist Otto Schott, the trio put their heads together to design and build the first apochromatic objective – a powerful device allowing clearer images with minimal colour distortion – lenses that are still used in science today.
Developing his ingenuously simple contraption to zoom in on the micro-world, he stepped into a completely different dimension.
It’s almost a year since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, affecting all our lives. While the virus continues its grip on the world, scientists are understanding it better and better, increasing our knowledge about it and opening up new ways to fight it.