We are living in a bacterial world! Bacteria were one of the first forms of life to appear on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago and to now live nearly everywhere, from the bottom of the ocean and the air around us to our bodies, which actually consist of much more bacterial than human cells.
Fortunately or unfortunately for us, bacteria are not visible to the naked eye.
From ancient times man has wanted to see beyond the perception of his eyes. The first recorded use of glass as a magnifier, a lens, comes from the 1st century AD Roman Empire when Seneca described actual magnification by a globe of water: “Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe of glass filled with water.”
Lenses come really into the scene in only the 14th century when the act of grinding lenses is discovered in Italy and spectacles come to improve the eyesight.
In 1590 the first prototype of a microscope is made when the Dutch lens grinders, father and son Janssen, place two lenses in a tube. There are claims that the father was also the real inventor of the telescope, with the first working telescope recorded in use really in the Netherlands in 1608 and improved by Galileo in the following year, who then built his compound microscope and called it occhiolino or “little eye”.
Microscope – history
In 1624 Galileo presented his occhiolino to Prince Federico Cesi, founder of the Accademia dei Lincei, where the German botanist Giovanni Faber coined its name in the following year and the word microscope was born as an analogue to the word telescope, which was also coined by the Linceans over a decade earlier.
The name microscope follows after the modern Latin microscopium, which literally means ‘an instrument for viewing what is small,’ and derives from the Greek word micro (small) + -skopium, verb skopein ‘to look, see’, noun skopos ‘aim, target, object of attention; watcher.’
In the following decades the first microscopes were used to mainly magnify non-living objects and small insects and animals which were visible to the naked eye. The first British record to use the word microscope describes the observation of, for example wheal-worms and mites and comes from Mathematicall magick; or, The wonders that may be performed by mechanicall geometry, published in 1648: “We see what strange discoveries of extream minute bodies, (as lice, wheal-worms, mites, and the like) are made by the Microscope, wherein their several parts (which are altogether invisible to the bare eye) will distinctly appear.”
The first to describe cells and bacteria seen through microscope was the Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who in 1675 used a simple microscope with only one lens to look at blood and insects.
The word microscope appears to have quickly impressed the literary word, as less than half a decade after the term was coined, it jumped from the scientific vocabulary into many poets’ works as a synonym of a close and often critical observation, to be firstly recorded in John Milton’s poem Paradise regain’d.
The phrase under the microscope was first recorded in print in 1765 in James Boswell’s Boswell on the grand tour: “There are few men who can keep their glory when they are examined under the microscope. “