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From Animaculum to single molecules: 300 years of the light microscope

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Adam WollmanORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2015 The Authors.Although not laying claim to being the inventor of the light microscope, Antonj van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) was arguably the first person to bring this new technological wonder of the age properly to the attention of natural scientists interested in the study of living things (people we might now term 'biologists'). Hewas a Dutch draper with no formal scientific training. From using magnifying glasses to observe threads in cloth, he went on to develop over 500 simple single lens microscopes (Baker & Leeuwenhoek 1739 Phil. Trans. 41, 503-519. (doi:10. 1098/rstl.1739.0085)) which he used to observe many different biological samples. He communicated his finding to the Royal Society in a series of letters (Leeuwenhoek 1800 The select works of Antony Van Leeuwenhoek, containing his microscopical discoveries in many of the works of nature, vol. 1) including the one republished in this edition of Open Biology. Our review here begins with the work of van Leeuwenhoek before summarizing the key developments over the last ca 300 years, which has seen the light microscope evolve from a simple single lens device of van Leeuwenhoek's day into an instrument capable of observing the dynamics of single biological molecules inside living cells, and to tracking every cell nucleus in the development of whole embryos and plants.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wollman AJM, Nudd R, Hedlund EG, Leake MC

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Open Biology

Year: 2015

Volume: 5

Issue: 4

Online publication date: 01/04/2015

Acceptance date: 01/04/2015

ISSN (electronic): 2046-2441

Publisher: Royal Society of London


DOI: 10.1098/rsob.150019

PubMed id: 25924631