The Golden Age of Microscopy

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The Golden Age of Microscopy

#1 Post by AntoniScott » Fri Feb 03, 2023 7:16 pm

The 1800's was a period where science, medicine and the microscope were dependant on each other. Titans like Pastuer, Koch, etc, were making amazing breakthroughs in diseases that were ravaging populations. The microscope stood out as the premier instrument to separate fact from fiction. In the late 1800's, we had instruments from Germany, Great Britain, and the USA that were worthy of great praise for their magnification and resolving power. Being state of the art instruments of amazing optical precision they were considered the height of technology at the time but as a consequence commanded extremely high prices. Scientists had the tools at there disposal to observe and discover. The microscope was an expensive instrument, so expensive as to be available to few educational institutions and way out of reach for the average person.
In the early 1900's, microscopes continued to evolve in magnification range, resolution, contrast, etc.
Even in the late 1800's it was known that different glass formulations resulted in superior images. Also, the limits of the wavelength of light were known in the 1800's and oil immersion objectives were introduced. The history of the microsccope is indeed a fascinationg read.
Still, the extremely high cost of these ultra precision instruments put them way out of the hands of millions of people that shared in the excitement of microscopy.

After the Second World War, Japan was able to expand their economy with low cost goods. Many of these products were of inferior quality. Amongst the many products produced inexpensively in Japan was the microscope. Fortunately, forward thinking entrepeneurs decided that 100% perfection was not absolutely necessary 100% of the time. It left open a huge market for many products, including the low cost microscope. Dozens of manufacturers flooded the market with dozens of microscopes, mostly inferior by some standards but adequate for the vast majority of consumers that just wanted a decent miroscope at a low price.
In the 1950's the market showed dozens of microscopes, all from Japan, with differing levels of optical quality. Their low prices were just right to introduce millions of microscope enthiusiasts to purchase one. It is very possible that the rapid increase in science and technolgy is directly attributable to these low cost entry level instruments that "turned on" millions of enthisiasts towards science. I suggest that the actual Golden Age of microscopy was between 1955 and 1965.

Phill Brown
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Re: The Golden Age of Microscopy

#2 Post by Phill Brown » Sat Feb 04, 2023 6:58 am

Incandescent projector bulb technology made a big difference.
The sun is not ideal for convenience (mansplaining?)
My experience of the Watson microsystem from 1965 is that it was likely designed around a 6v 30w square filament Japanese halogen,in production they used a 15v 30w B15D maybe to extend life as the PSU will deliver more than 6v.
I'm lucky to have a lathe to make the B15D mounting collar to fit the 6v 30w square filament and the means to centre and focus on the original from the R&D Kohler unit.
The mirror is adjustable also.
I also have the Hilux 12v 100w Osram version with fully adjustable bulb mount, it's not what I would describe as easily portable.

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Re: The Golden Age of Microscopy

#3 Post by apochronaut » Sun Feb 05, 2023 4:22 pm

It is hard for me to consider one great age. I think there were eras of great leaps, with each era hallmarked by the development of seminal advances.

The first era was obviously that of the originators, Leeuwenhoek, Hooke, Huygens et al. They used the sun but also a broad flame.

Early microscope illumination technology did not use Köhler illumination because it was unnecessary at the time. Illuminators such as the gas flame and ribbon filament type produced wide, flat, bright illumination fields, so critical illumination was employed, producing an even fairly parallel wavefront. A lot of the oblique work was done with such illuminators and would not have been possible without achromat aplanat condensers. Ross invented the achromatic condenser in something like 1849., with much of the great early microbiologists work facilitated using such illuminators along with the various other incarnations of well corrected condensers and objectives that blossomed in the latter quarter of the 19th century. Personally, I would say that second great age of microscopy began after the invention of the achromatic lens up to and including the first w.w. period.

The third would be the post second world war era, when phase contrast, epi-fluorescence and interference contrast
arrived. That carried the day until the current 4th era , the digital era which brings a bevey of tools into the fold. Spinning disc microscopy, near field, laser scanning, confocal etc. etc. There are almost new ones yearly or less, at least at the experimental level.

Did the wide post war availability of cheap Japanese consumer goods have a resounding impact on the development curve of microcoscopy? Did some future major pioneer of a resoundingly astute imaging process get into it at the age of 11 with their Tasco 900X? Did a 9 year old Marvin Minsky prepare slides at his bedroom desk using an N.B.L. slide preparation kit? No doubt those little easily available microscopes were a hit. They were everywhere, just like Kent guitars and Stewart drums. Was their acceptability due to their availlability or was their availability due to their acceptability. I would argue the latter.

I'm just going to shoot off in a bit of a detour here, involving a tool that has had just as equal a cultural and individual impact , albeit involving different aspects of human involvement. I would propose that the availability of cheap Japanese consumer goods didn't drive the consumer trends, they exploited them by supplying cheap but desirable sales solutions for suppliers, distributors and brokers.
You could have any name you wanted on any of the types of goods mentioned above. Stewart drums for instance were by far the most common Japanese drum brand courtesy of Sears but Pearl drum company who made them, issued essentially the same really lousy drums and even worse cymbals under at least 50 stencil names sold throughout the Western world. Who was Stewart? Well, he was Ludwig and Roger Slingerland's younger brother by a second marriage, didn't you know? Did the flood of cheap Japanese consumer goods influence trends or follow them? Who was Kent? Wasn't he that popular guy in Ohio who was in the news? In Japan in the 50's, 60's and 70's branding was a mashup. Japlish, and if the demand was there, so were the goods. Just a cable away. You can't really blame them for taking advantage of the awaiting markets of the era. The drums and guitars were made from a great amount of Luan plywood, which when marketed as Mahogany went multi-purpose whether for coasters, hollow doors, drumshells or salad bowls. Philipine Luan, clearcut by the tens of thousands of hectares to make way for sugar and palm kernel oil plantations and sold so cheap that a door could retail for under 10.00 in Toronto. There were millions of board feet ot Luan stripped from s.e. Asia to satisfy Japan's hunger for wood.
When I was 11, I received a microscope for Christmas. Now, I knew what a microscope looked like. It had a horseshoe shaped base, a mirror, stage, objectives, focusers and an eyepiece. It could be either grey or black and came in a wooden case. When my microscope arrived, it was kind of funky looking. It had all the components but they were sort of rearranged. There was no mirror, but an illuminator housed in a box, the objectives were a bit funny looking and it was white and kind of silver. No horshoe base. There was no wooden case. Looking through it, I recognized that the image was just as good as that through the one that the teacher took out of the locked cupboard at school but mine had only 400X magnification and it just didn't look like a microscope. It was a hobby microscope fail from American Optical, soon to be replaced by a grey enamel 600X horseshoe based stand , with a mirror, 3 objectives , 2 eyepieces and a wooden box. Made in Japan with all but the 50 and 100X images decidedly inferior to those of the AO. My Mother had talked to the salesman in the toy department at the dept. store where both were purchased. He had advised her on the AO due to image quality. A little more money but well worth it. When she called back to return it I remember her saying " he wants one that looks like a microscope". Did I say that? I guess I did because that was the sense I had. There was a bit of a discussion and she was advised against my first choice, a 900X Tasco. It seems the salesman knew something. I ended up with a similar microscope to the Tasco but only 600X, avoiding paying for the useless 20X eyepiece. Did that instrument fuel my scientific hunger? In some ways yes but it did not stimulate it. Probably the AO would have due to it's realistic capability. I never saw another AO hobby microscope. My guess is it never even went back to the drawing board. Children liked the 1200X much more than 400X.
No, that flush of Japanese horseshoe stands was reactive, not proactive but unfortunately being too cheap and falsely grandiose to ignore, they persisted and along with the 450X telescope sales , it helped pay for all that Luan.

Would we have been better off if the cheap Japanese consumer goods industry had never existed and domestic companies had not been under do much economic pressure? I think so but it could be argued that cheap offshore competition is inevitable.
Going back to my musical instrument analogy compared to microscopes, drums specifically. In 1960, there were probably 14 drum companies supplying musicians with most of their gear. The Japanese entered the market in the 1950's with cheap consumer products, eventually generating enough revenue and expertise to begin to compete with better brands by about 1972. The timelines are very similar to the microscope industry. Now, it is a lot easier to begin making drums, less so cymbals , where metallurgy and forming technique can be quite sophisticated, so there are many more tiny drum companies than microscope companies but the comparison ratio pre and post Japanese involvement is interesting if I include just the major companies. With drums, 14 large professional mfg. in 1960 and no Japanese professional mfg. but they were manufacturing. In microscopes in 1960 about 10 large professional producers and only a fleeting involvement by the Japanese. In 2000 there were about 1/2 as many larger professional drum manufacturers and 3 of them Japanese. All of the other companies in other countries that did survive, 3 American, 1 British and 1 German survived due to some or a lot of financing from other companies in related industries, venture capital or consolidation. In 2000 there again were 1/2 the microscope companies left with now 3 of the players being Japanese. In the case of the non Japanese companies, again there was considerable finaigling involved to keep them afloat.
The Japanese companies required finaigling too but as we know in one case for sure , they used a table cloth with a very low skirt, so quite a bit could be accomplished down there. They sell a lot of those table cloths in Japan. They are gov't issue.

There is an ice cream brand in Japan called HARM, with a slogan that goes : HARM, it comes in 12 flavors.
Then there is this. ... d-of-58159

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Re: The Golden Age of Microscopy

#4 Post by Hobbyst46 » Sun Feb 05, 2023 10:10 pm

Another great leap was made in the 1980's when super-resolution light microscopy started and confocal proliferated (I think in the 1990's). And it still continues to evolve.

P.S. I appologize, just noticed that Apochronaut has already mentioned it above.
Zeiss Standard GFL+Canon EOS-M10, Olympus VMZ stereo

charlie g
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Re: The Golden Age of Microscopy

#5 Post by charlie g » Sun Feb 05, 2023 10:47 pm

On 10/4/57..Sputnik ( 'traveling companion' in russian..I think) was launched to orbit our dear earth.

We (western block countries were in terrible shock...the nuclear arms race already was well underway...and now the western block was behind in earth ballistic missile capability, perhaps) ...domestic spending in USA devoted to science education/ STEM education even trickled down to : "How and Why Wonder Books" displayed for sale in common supermarkets.

Late (post 1957) markets were 'ripe' for : science kits, microscopes, erector-sets , science books..television shows depicting science..for USA children.

There were ( in my NY state: 'national direct student loans' for low income kids to attend college...very low interest loans!) oh so many market forces to push microscopes on parents of children.

The original products offered/ pitched to parents for the children were so much better than the trash which quickly followed.

I have benefitted from my USA initial response to the: 'Sputnik Crisis of 10/4/1957'. charlie g

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