Van Leeuwenhoek Microscope Rediscovered and Analyzed Using Microscopy

Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch man who lived in the Netherlands from 1632 to 1723, is known as the father of microbiology. He created single lens microscopes and wrote a series of detailed letters during his life describing his observations of bacteria and protozoa using his devices, which he called “animacules.” Many of his contemporaries were skeptical of his observations of microscopic life, and his discoveries were largely forgotten for about 150 years until other scientist began to have similar ideas about the existence of microorganisms.  Recently, one of his microscopes was discovered in the eastern part of England.

Brian Ford at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in the U.K. authenticated the more than 300 year old microscope as one created by van Leeuwenhoek. He did so by comparing its characteristics to two other microscopes known to be made by van Leeuwenhoek. (13 of the hundreds of microscopes van Leeuwenhoek created during his lifetime are known to exist today.) Scientists used a Hitachi S-3400N scanning electron microscope to investigate van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope. Images from the electron microscope provided detail of the manufacturing process van Leeuwenhoek used to create his microscope, such as details of the manufacture of the screw threads on the microscope.

The lens of the rediscovered van Leeuwenhoek microscope can achieve a magnification of about 285x, which was much greater than anything used by his contemporaries, so it is no wonder that van Leeuwenhoek was able to observe microscopic objects. Using modern microscopy equipment and analysis techniques on old objects, such as the van Leeuwenhoek microscope, can lead to some fascinating investigations and to the appreciation of the contributions of scientists from the past.


Dutch Master Rediscovered. Laboratory News, Jan 2024 Issue 1, 40. (Image taken from this publication.)

Lane, N Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. The unseen world: reflections on Leeuwenhoek (1677) ‘Concerning little animals’ 2015 Apr 19; 370(1666): 20140344.