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Milestone Microscopy Quality, precision and science – The visualisation of microcosm

Author / Editor: Dr. Ilka Ottleben* / Dr. Ilka Ottleben

What does a person consist of? Their organs? Their blood? How does life work? Finding the answer to many fundamental questions of humanity would not have been conceivable without the microscope. A technology that was revolutionised when it was put on a scientific foundation for the first time.

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Fig. 1 Where it all began - the optical workshop in Jena in the 19th Century.
Fig. 1 Where it all began - the optical workshop in Jena in the 19th Century.
(Source: Zeiss)

Jena, in the middle of the 19th Century. The city on the Saale, which Goethe once respectfully called the “City of Knowledge”, was, economically at least, dominated by its university and small craft businesses which lived on science-related orders. Far beyond the city limits of Jena, this was the start of a new era in natural sciences and medicine: Researchers began to understand the fundamental structure of living organisms, the meaning of the term "cell" became more and more developed. It was against this background that the 30-year-old Carl Zeiss (1816-1888) opened a workshop for precision mechanics and optics on 17 November 1846 at Neugasse No. 7 in Jena - a foundation stone and cradle of over 170 years of company history that has lasted to this very day.

Exploring the microcosm

The beginnings of microscopy go back to the middle of the 17th Century and its long history shows that it part of human nature to want to make the tiniest thing to the human eye - the microcosm - visible. But only the increasing importance and progress in scientific research and medicine at the beginning of the 19th Century made a device which once primarily served amusement, into an extremely important scientific instrument. And so, in the year 1847, on the advice of his academic teacher Matthias Jacob Schleiden (1804-1881), botanist and co-founder of the cell theory, Carl Zeiss began making simple but precise microscopes. Through his diligence, he quickly became a name, the need and demand for his products proved he had made the right decision. But only compound microscopes could achieve higher magnifications. For Zeiss to stay with the competition, he also had to build a compound microscope; in 1857 ”Stativ I” became the first technical milestone of his young company.