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Hartsoeker Screw-Barrel Microscope

British optician and instrument maker James Wilson is often credited with creating the screw-barrel simple microscope in 1702, but it was actually Dutch mathematics and physics professor Nicolas Hartsoeker who first invented the device.

In 1694, Hartsoeker created an instrument that appeared like the one featured above and published its design in an essay on dioptery. The microscope was developed in response to a growing demand for a small, portable instrument that was practical to carry into the field, easy to use, and feasible to mass-produce at a reasonable cost. Hartsoeker and his followers used the simple microscope to examine both transparent and opaque specimens found in nature. During the 18th century, Wilson's simplified version became very popular with amateur naturalists in England and was manufactured for many decades. The Hartsoeker version of the screw-barrel microscope illustrated above is based upon an engraving published in McCormick and Turner's book entitled Antique Microscopes.

Most screw-barrel microscopes consist of a wide-threaded cylinder that is screwed into or out of a main microscope barrel to focus slides, which are held between brass plates. In Hartsoeker's design, however, there are three cylinders that screw together and a spiral spring between the two plates that can hold specimen in place. The widest cylinder of Hartsoeker's device contains the magnifying lens, while the middle tube serves as the focusing mechanism and the narrowest tube contains a condenser. Christiaan Huygens may have described the condenser first in his 1678 publication on light, but Hartsoeker is believed to be the first to put it into practice in a portable microscope.


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