looking through the magnifying glass

Posts tagged “History of Science

Microscopy Three – Microscopic vs. Macroscopy

An ant as imaged using a scanning electron mic...

An ant as imaged using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A big surprise in the woods at Crich ...

English: A big surprise in the woods at Crich Tramway Village A new attraction at Crich Tramway Village is the Woodland Walk & Sculpture Trail. Near the Wakebridge end of the trail is this giant wood ant. You probably wouldn’t want to come across this as dusk approaches! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And here we are with part three on microscopy; what microscopic and macroscopic means.

Let’s have a look at that, and start right at the beginning. If you think about scientific terms, it’s always, and I mean always, a good idea to look into the ethymology of the term and/or thing you want to know more about. In this case, we are talking about micro and macro. Mikros is a greak word (for once not a latin one, but scientists tend to switch between those two languages a lot), that means small. Makros on the other hand descirbes something big. Now this sounds very simplistic and not at all like something, that could be used as a definition; in the end a mouse is small too, but you wouldn’t need a microscope to see one. However, in a still simplistic view, the microcosm, that you would observe with a microscope, is that part of our world, that you wouldn’t be able to see without one. As opposed to the macrocosm, which you can. Thinking of that things start to come together a bit more. But I, myself, am still not quite satisfied with that definition either. What other properties could there be to nail it down a bit more proper.

In order to do so, we shall investigate three items, and their properties, a bit more closely; a binocular, a microscope and a magnifying glass.

A microscope will make something small, and close, within a narrow focus plane appear larger then it acutally is. A binocular on the other hand, will make something far away, typically bigger, almost without concerning about a foual plane (the focal plane at some point is basically infinite) appear smaller then it actually is. We only rearrange that image in our brain back to it’s expected size. And finally the magnifying glass would basically do both things, but it would turn blurry or upside down. How is this possible?

The answer lies within what is called focal length/width (and a subsequent arrangement of more lenses for further adjustment)

Now this is a very much complex topic, and I will leave you with this little teaser until my next post, where I’ll explain focal distance.

Microscopy Two – History of the lens

Philately, Magnifying glass shows the magnifie...

Philately, Magnifying glass shows the magnified image of the Deutsche Post 1 Reichsmark postage stamp issued on May 12 1946. Français : Étude à la loupe d’un timbre de la poste allemande de 1 Reichsmark datant du 12 mai 1946. Philatélie, loupe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here’s another short one for the microscopy series. The “what was before” the microscope part of it, if you want to phrase it that way.

The central part of a microscope is the lens. But a lens is also a plant (Lens culinaris) and the name of it’s very own fruit, called Lentia in latin. So how do these two connect, you might ask. And that is really straight forward. In the 1st century AD the romans started experimenting with various shapes of glass, not only to put them in windows but also convert them into beautiful pieces of artwork and jewlery for example. One of the shapes the cam up with resembled that of a lens, a common edible at that time. So it was roundish, flat at the edges and growing in thickness towards the center with a rather regular curvature. When those romans looked through that see-through, lens shaped obejct they discouvered that objects on the far side of it will appear bigger, and that was the very moment in history the magnifying glass, or lens, was born.

Without a lens, no microscope, no telescope, no binocular, in fact not even normal glasses would work. So I guess once again we have to be thankful for those great inventions that date back over centuries, without which our society would just not quite work as it does.

So now that you know where the lens comes from, my next post will focus a bit more on some of the other things I just mentioned. Namely binoculars, telescopes, magnifying glasses, regular glasses and what seperates them from what we consider a microscope.