A Brief History Of The Microscope

The invention of the microscope transformed science forever. Here we explore what microscopes have revealed and what the best microscopes today can do.


It has been said that without microscopy, there is no modern science. Before the microscope, we did not know that bacteria and viruses existed. People invented myths about curses and witches to explain disease. To control illnesses, we depended on cultural taboos and crude theories. The invention of the microscope changed all of this!

In this animation you will learn the early artwork made by Robert Hooke as he looked into a microscope. Microscopes were extremely rare  in his day but his drawings made the microscopic world accessible to everyone.

We are then introduced to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and his discovery of single celled organisms. We learn a bit about how light works (using a simplified particle model) and why light can’t be used to see atoms and molecules. We then finish by seeing how modern microscope innovators have solved this problem, bringing us spectacular images of the elements that make up our world.

This animation is part of a 4 part series funded by the CaSTL research group. Aside from this animation, they also produced a wonderful video game for classroom use called Bond Breaker. Below are the other three Stated Clearly animations in this series:

Explore Further

Historical books and paper shown in this animation:

Papers about CaSTL’s “Chemiscopes”

In this animation we use a particle model to show how light works. While this model is extremely useful (and the most intuitive for people new to the study of light), it is more accurate to model light as a wave in the electromagnetic field. For a intro on this, see Khan Academy’s series on light.


Our videos benefit from guidance and advice provided by experts in science and education. This animation is the result of collaboration between the following scientists, educators, and our team of creatives.

  • Jon Perry
  • Jordan Collver
  • Anthony Danzl
  • Tyler Proctor
  • Ara Apkarian, PhD
  • Eric Potma, PhD
  • Venkat Bommisetty, PhD


The word Animalcule is a combination of “animal” and the diminutive suffix -culum. The word molecule is built from the same suffix.