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Koch was a country doctor who used an ordinary microscope to discover the bacilli that caused tuberculosis and cholera, two of the most deadly diseases of his time. Thereby he lay the cornerstone to modern bacteriology.
Robert Koch, Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1905 »

 

Sakmann and Neher made epoch-making investigations of living cells. For example they studied the function of nerve cells and expanded our knowledge of their function.
Bert Sakmann and Erwin Neher, Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1991 »

 

These scientists studied the fruit fly (Drosophila) and expanded the knowledge of how an egg cell grows to become a complete organism. That is vital information in understanding the development of all living species.
Edward B. Lewis, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus, Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1995 »

From Thrilling Toy to Important Tool

Like no other invention, the microscope has unveiled the secrets of nature. The human eye has a resolution in the order of 100 um (10-4 m), which is about the thickness of a hair. With the microscope, whole worlds become available, filled with knowledge that can serve as inspiration to our fantasy. The exploration of microcosmos has led to numerous discoveries, without which we would be left with the limited knowledge our eyes give us.

The development of the conventional microscope at the end of the 16th century would lead to a great step forward for science, particularly in biology and medicine. In the beginning though, the microscope was mainly a toy in rich homes. But many important discoveries followed. The first scientific results based on microscopy dealt with the circulating blood system and changed our view of the human body. Scientists have also discovered and explored life's own building block – the cell. Different types of bacteria and the following struggle against diseases, as well as studies of different materials and their qualities are other valuable results.

Through ingenious inventions, the limit of what scientists could reveal from the hidden expanded continuously during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Finally, at the end of the nineteenth century physical limits in the form of the wavelength of light stopped the quest to see further into the microcosmos. With the theories of quantum physics, new possibilities appeared – the electron with its extremely short wavelength could be used as "light-source" in microscopes with unprecedented resolution. The first prototype of the electron microscope was constructed around 1930. In the following decades, smaller and smaller things could be studied. Viruses were identified and with magnifications up to one million, even atoms finally became visible.

Since photography has developed hand in hand with different techniques of microscopy, the public has been able to follow close in the footsteps of scientists. Pictures of cell division, nerves that make up the brain and single atoms have changed our view of the human body and nature itself. Even today our ability to lurk into nature increases further, owing to new techniques of microscopy for studying delicate processes within the cell or the building of materials atom by atom with nanotechnology.

 

 


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