The History of Microscopy

An Interactive Timeline

So this week I want to introduce a new project I’m starting: an interactive timeline of the history of microscopy. The idea behind this is to slowly build up an educational resource that documents key events and people in the history of microscopy. Eventually this timeline will go from the first compound microscopes, through electron and fluorescence microscopy and right up to modern techniques such as lightsheet and super-resolution.


In order to construct this timeline I’ve started with an easy to build and easy to explore visualisation tool called TimelineJS. This allows me to build up a spreadsheet of events that are then compiled into an easy to explore timeline. Each event on the timeline will be linked to a blog post on that event (or person, or instrument). I may, if needs be, move the timeline to an alternative tool if the timeline becomes to complex to explore in TimelineJS. I may also choose to split the timeline into smaller chunks, for example, creating a dedicated timeline just from electron microscopy, we shall see.

Currently you can access the timeline here and through the ‘timeline’ link at the top. In the near future I will sort out the plug-ins so that I can embed the timeline into it’s own permanent page on this site.

A Starting Point - Nobel Prizes

In order that I don’t start with a blank timeline I’ve decided to begin by adding all the Nobel Prizes that are related to microscopy. There are quite a few of these and they include the development of fluorescent probes (see 2008), detectors important to microscopy (see 2009), and the development of new microscope technologies, e.g. (see super-resolution techniques in 2014). I have not included any prizes where the research used microscopy, of which there are many, or the development of medical imaging, e.g. MRI, or spectroscopy, e.g. NMR, which are well outside of my field of expertise.

Normally each event in the timeline will link to one of blog posts which introduces the event, research, person or instrument or discusses an important topic relating to that event. However, writing about all the Nobel Prizes relating to microscopy would take weeks and, given the excellent resources provided by the Nobel Prize website, for these initial events I have just linked to the appropriate award page on their website. From here you should find acceptance speeches, Nobel lectures and many additional resources, including a few on-line games.

Adding Extra Events

In the future, everytime I write a blog post about a specific event, person or technology in the history of microscopy I will add this to the timeline and, over the coming months, this will hopefully expand into a useful and interactive resource for me, educationalists and researchers.

Contributing to the Timeline

Of course, if I only add to the timeline when I write a blog entry then it will take quite a while to build up the timeline. As such, I am more than happy to work with anybody who’s interested in contributing to the timeline in anyway. If you’re interested please just contact me.

Chas Nelson
LKAS Research Fellow in Data Science

An interdisciplinary scientist with a background in quantitative microscopy and bioimage analysis.