The Lion of Microscopy

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek has been called the “father of microbiology.” This Dutch scientist manufactured several powerful microscopes with small, near-spherical, lenses, and made numerous microbiological and other observations. He discovered, among other things, red blood cells, spermatozoa, and micro-organisms.



Top: Replica of a van Leeuwenhoek microscope (photo: Jeroen Rouwkema). Bottom left: van Leeuwenhoek’s drawings of sand grains (in red chalk, from a letter to the Royal Society, 4th December 1703). Bottom right: section through one-year-old ash wood (click images to zoom).

It is interesting to compare van Leeuwenhoek’s drawings with the modern electron-microscope image of sand grains below. The technology has gotten better, but scientists are still treading down the path blazed by van Leeuwenhoek and his contemporary Robert Hooke.

And where would medicine be without microscopy? The microbiologists who followed this great pioneer have saved countless lives, and the world is in van Leeuwenhoek’s debt as a result.

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