Since its invention over 400 years ago, the microscope has opened our eyes to a veritable world of living things all around us. The ability to magnify a sample to many times its actual size has allowed to us to surpass the capabilities of the human eye and unlock a wide number of breakthroughs in many aspects of science and medicine.

Of course, the first microscope was made in 1590, and the four centuries that have passed in the interim mean that it would look unrecognisable from the hefty laboratory behemoths we wield today. With our advancing technological knowledge, we have been able to apply the practices of microscopy and imaging to an ever-increasing number of applications, with widespread ramifications for virtually all facets of human life. Here is a broad overview of some of the most important.

Biological sampling
Using sophisticated imaging techniques, researchers are able to visualise the structure of tissues and biomaterials of model organisms and humans in a non-destructive manner. X-ray technology has been particularly useful in this respect, since it allows for dissection of thick samples without drawing blood or causing discomfort. Recently, advances in time-resolved electron microscopy have improved imaging of biological samples even further by enhancing the contrast and resolution of the image in question.

Material development
When fashioning alloys or processing plastics, for example, it’s imperative that the manufacturers fully understand the properties of the materials they are working with. Microscopy and imaging techniques can greatly help in this regard by indicating such physical and mechanical characteristics as strength, ductility and hardness , as well as its resistance to variables such as temperature, corrosion and pressure. This knowledge can then inform the purposes and applications for which the material can serve.