Guest Post: Little Ilford School ‘Science Club’

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In our fourth post from Year 9 at Little Ilford School, Anisa, Sadia and Tasniminvestigate the history of microscopy.

Last month our group at the Wellcome Trust learnt about microscopy, the technique of using microscopes to view samples and objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

A favourite for the title of ‘inventor of the microscope’ was Galileo Galilei. He developed an occhiolino or compound microscope with a convex and a concave lens in 1609. Galileo’s microscope was the first such device to be given the name “microscope” (from the Greek words ‘micron’ meaning “small”, and ‘skopein’ meaning “to look at”).

An explosion in interest occurred in the late 1600s when Dutch researcher Anthony van Leeuwenhoek started documenting “animalcules,” otherwise known as microorganisms. Microorganisms are organisms of a microscopic size. The realization that a miniature world existed without the knowledge of humans led researchers to refine their lenses and microscopy techniques to get better magnification and higher image resolution.

In the library we saw a lithograph of a terrified woman observing a drop of water through a microscope from the early 19th century. The woman is clearly shocked because of all the pollution and bacteria found in the water, something no one would have been able to see without microscopes.

We also looked at a magnified drawing of a drone fly. This intricate drawing was published in a book called Micrographia, by Robert Hooke in 1665. This book was a huge best seller and intrigued the public about microscopy.

The invention of microscopy is a very valuable one for society, as it allowed us to see so much that was not previously possible with the naked eye. Without microscopes, we would not know about viruses and diseases, which would have had a huge effect on today’s civilisation. Without a microscope, it would be impossible to survive diseases that we have come across.

Posted on behalf of Anisa, Sadia and Tasnim

Images: Lithograph of a horrified old woman observing the monstrous contents of a drop of water through a microscope, early 19th century (Wellcome Library no 12080i

Drawing of the eyes and head of a grey drone fly from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665)

Scanning electron micrograph of the head of Drosophila Melanogaster fruit fly, 2009 (Wellcome Images ref. 0007686)

Helen Wakely

Helen Wakely is Archives Project Manager at the Wellcome Library.

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