Microscope Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the history and key parts of an essential scientific tool: the microscope. Microscopes have been around for centuries, but they continue to be updated, allowing us to see things we never thought possible.

What is a Microscope?

If you are wondering what exactly a microscope is, take a close look at the root word and its prefix. The root scope means to watch or see, and the prefix micro means extremely small. Together, you can see that a microscope is an instrument that allows someone to see very small objects. It can even let you examine things that you can't see with the naked eye.

History of the Microscope

There is no clear agreement on who first invented the microscope. Some say that Zacharias Janssen first invented the microscope in the 1590s. Zacharias and his father, Hans, were actually Dutch eyeglass makers. It's believed that, together, they began experimenting with ways to use different lenses. When they put a lens at the end of a small tube, they discovered that objects near the end were magnified more than the lens by itself could achieve, and thus began their development of a microscope with multiple lenses.

Others believe that the true inventor was German-Dutch Hans Lippershey, also an eyeglass maker. He also created some of the earliest microscopes, and while he may have invented his own separately of Janssen, some argue that Lippershey actually stole designs for the microscope from Janssen.

An early compound microscope
compound microscope

In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek worked to create stronger lenses that vastly improved the microscope, allowing people to see incredibly small things. He was one of the first scientists able to observe bacteria, movement in water droplets, and blood in capillaries.

The microscope had many uses right away. One of the most significant uses is by British scientist Robert Hooke. In 1665, he published his microscopic observations in his book Micrographia. It was the first book to include illustrations of plants and animals seen through a microscope. With the magnifying powers of a microscope, Hooke was also the first to use the term 'cell.'

Parts of a Microscope

The most common type of microscope is the compound microscope, or a microscope that used two or more lenses. Most of these microscopes will have the same basic parts.

A typical compound microscope

  1. Eyepiece, where you put your eye to look into the microscope
  2. Revolving nose piece, which allows you to switch between lenses
  3. Lenses, contained in a tube that connects the lenses
  4. Focus knob
  5. Secondary focus knob, called a coarse adjustment knob
  6. Fine adjustment knob, for further focusing after use of adjustment knob
  7. Stage, the platform that holds the sample you're looking at
  8. Light source in the form of a mirror or light
  9. Condenser, a lens that concentrates the light
  10. Mechanical stage, a platform for the sample that's movable

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