Through the Looking Glass . . .

Micro 1Andrea/Cara here, Like my fellow Wenches, I find doing research is an integral part of the creative process for my books. Digging deeper into elements I want to weave into a story and learning little details often spark ideas that embellish the plots. One of the very fun aspects of my summer sojourn to England was the chance to explore up close and personal some of the scientific inventions that I feature in my Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set mystery series.

My current WIP features a voltaic pile (named after Alexander Volta, it was the first electrical battery and could generate a current.) But you’ll hear more about that in the future. I also have Wrexford and his assistant solve a key part of the mystery using a microscope. And as I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford during my trip, I was, as they say, in hog—or rather, lens—heaven!

Micro 2The Museum, which is located in the Old Ashmolean building, is considered to have the finest collection of scientific instruments in the world (and is the third oldest museum dedicated to a specific purpose.) The array of microscopes is fascinating—they’re works of art in and of themselves—and the chance to actually see how they work was inspiring. The ingenuity and creativity involved in conceptualizing how to solve a problem (i.e. seeing things better than with the naked eye) is a wonderful metaphor for exploration and curiosity, which are core elements of the mystery genre.

So let’s take a closer look at the history of the Regency-era microscope!

Medieval-glasses-tmThere is mention of glass lenses in Roman writing of the first century AD. (The word “lens” is derived from the Latin word for “lentil” as they resembled the convex shape of the bean.) They were used for simple magnification and referred to as magnifiers. (It was also discovered that they could focus sunlight to ignite a flame, and so were also called fire glasses.)

It wasn’t until the 13th century that some clever individual came up with the revolutionary idea of making eyeglasses. This discovery of how to alter the way we see would soon lead to other profound innovations of how we see ourselves and the world around us. In the early 1590s, Zaccharias and Hans Janssen, a Dutch father and son duo of spectacle makers, began experimenting with combining several lenses within a tube. The result was that they see an object at the end of the tube with far greater magnification than could be achieved with a simple magnifying glass—they had invented the compound microscope!

Hooke's microscopeGalileo was fascinated by lenses and did pioneering work on the principle of lenses and light rays. He made a number of technical advances in both microscopes and telescopes.  

1280px-HookeFlea01Robert Hooke, one of the great minds behind the birth of modern science in England in the mid 1600s, made some groundbreaking discoveries with an early compound microscope that he designed and had built by notable instrument maker Christopher Cock. He was the first to magnify a plant and name its essential building blocks a “cell.” And in 1665, he produced a book called Micrographia, whose images—like the famous flea—sparked the imagination of the public and stirred interest in looking more closely at the world.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who worked in a store selling fabric, became fascinated with lenses while using a magnifying glass to examine the threads in woven piece of cloth. He started to experiment with making his own lenses and developed one with far more curvature, which allowed for far greater magnification—some were able to enlarge things 270x! He also invented a single lens microscope, which allowed him to view things the previous versions couldn’t—he’s credited with being the first to see, among other things, bacteria, sperm, organisms in water, and the movement of blood through capillaries.

LeeuwenhoekThe question of how to focus enough light on a subject light was always an issue with early microscopes. Men of science were constantly tinkering with arrangements of mirrors, lamps and vials of water (to diffuse lamp light.) It wasn’t until the late 19th century that electricity allowed a whole new array of microscopes (modern-day ones use specialized technology that I won’t even begin to try explaining!)

Micro 3Regency-era microscopes used the same basic technology developed in the 1600s, though the men of science in that time were constantly tinkering with lenses and able to engineer instruments with more precise adjustments. I use just such a tinkering in my WIP to illuminate a key clue in the mystery.

Though I didn’t do much science in school, I remember vividly the amazement and excitement of my first look through a microscope. The idea that things appeared so very different depending on one’s perspective really opened my eyes and had a profound effect on me. I think lenses are one of the transformational inventions in human history.

Micro 5These days, lenses affect so much of our daily lives and our hobbies, from eyeglasses and digital cameras to binoculars, telescopes and rangefinders. Are you a stamp collector, a bird watcher, a spectator at sporting events? Then I’m sure you’re constantly using lenses. I now need reading glasses so am incredibly thankful for the ability to see my beloved books! So what about you—what lens, if any, do you use regularly? And for which are you most thankful?

90 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass . . .”

  1. My glasses! Got them in fourth grade and they changed my life. I was amazed at the stars in the sky, seeing the blackboard and street signs. Reading was never a problem, praise God, to this day I take off the lenses to read.

    Reply
  2. My glasses! Got them in fourth grade and they changed my life. I was amazed at the stars in the sky, seeing the blackboard and street signs. Reading was never a problem, praise God, to this day I take off the lenses to read.

    Reply
  3. My glasses! Got them in fourth grade and they changed my life. I was amazed at the stars in the sky, seeing the blackboard and street signs. Reading was never a problem, praise God, to this day I take off the lenses to read.

    Reply
  4. My glasses! Got them in fourth grade and they changed my life. I was amazed at the stars in the sky, seeing the blackboard and street signs. Reading was never a problem, praise God, to this day I take off the lenses to read.

    Reply
  5. My glasses! Got them in fourth grade and they changed my life. I was amazed at the stars in the sky, seeing the blackboard and street signs. Reading was never a problem, praise God, to this day I take off the lenses to read.

    Reply
  6. I have worn glasses since first grade. My basic problem was an astigmatism, which is probably the trickiest eye problem to correct. In first grade I was far-sighted. Somewhere along those early years it changed to near sightedness. The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice no longer seeing individual leaves. So What a great surprise my new lenses were! Once again there were individual leaves!
    I also enjoyed using the microscope during my science courses. I wasn’t truly skillful, but I did enjoy working with them. I’m sure I would enjoy that Oxford museum.
    I lack the mental “hooks” to use in building a body of scientific knowledge. Scientific museums are a completely different matters. The individual display fascinate me.

    Reply
  7. I have worn glasses since first grade. My basic problem was an astigmatism, which is probably the trickiest eye problem to correct. In first grade I was far-sighted. Somewhere along those early years it changed to near sightedness. The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice no longer seeing individual leaves. So What a great surprise my new lenses were! Once again there were individual leaves!
    I also enjoyed using the microscope during my science courses. I wasn’t truly skillful, but I did enjoy working with them. I’m sure I would enjoy that Oxford museum.
    I lack the mental “hooks” to use in building a body of scientific knowledge. Scientific museums are a completely different matters. The individual display fascinate me.

    Reply
  8. I have worn glasses since first grade. My basic problem was an astigmatism, which is probably the trickiest eye problem to correct. In first grade I was far-sighted. Somewhere along those early years it changed to near sightedness. The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice no longer seeing individual leaves. So What a great surprise my new lenses were! Once again there were individual leaves!
    I also enjoyed using the microscope during my science courses. I wasn’t truly skillful, but I did enjoy working with them. I’m sure I would enjoy that Oxford museum.
    I lack the mental “hooks” to use in building a body of scientific knowledge. Scientific museums are a completely different matters. The individual display fascinate me.

    Reply
  9. I have worn glasses since first grade. My basic problem was an astigmatism, which is probably the trickiest eye problem to correct. In first grade I was far-sighted. Somewhere along those early years it changed to near sightedness. The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice no longer seeing individual leaves. So What a great surprise my new lenses were! Once again there were individual leaves!
    I also enjoyed using the microscope during my science courses. I wasn’t truly skillful, but I did enjoy working with them. I’m sure I would enjoy that Oxford museum.
    I lack the mental “hooks” to use in building a body of scientific knowledge. Scientific museums are a completely different matters. The individual display fascinate me.

    Reply
  10. I have worn glasses since first grade. My basic problem was an astigmatism, which is probably the trickiest eye problem to correct. In first grade I was far-sighted. Somewhere along those early years it changed to near sightedness. The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice no longer seeing individual leaves. So What a great surprise my new lenses were! Once again there were individual leaves!
    I also enjoyed using the microscope during my science courses. I wasn’t truly skillful, but I did enjoy working with them. I’m sure I would enjoy that Oxford museum.
    I lack the mental “hooks” to use in building a body of scientific knowledge. Scientific museums are a completely different matters. The individual display fascinate me.

    Reply
  11. The Museum was fascinating, Sue. There were lots of other types of instruments like sextants and chronometers too, which I also find fascinating. Like you, I didn’t have much skill in science but seeing things through a microscope was really amazing, and I’ve come to be very interested in other scientific endeavors. Museums really help get one excited about such things!

    Reply
  12. The Museum was fascinating, Sue. There were lots of other types of instruments like sextants and chronometers too, which I also find fascinating. Like you, I didn’t have much skill in science but seeing things through a microscope was really amazing, and I’ve come to be very interested in other scientific endeavors. Museums really help get one excited about such things!

    Reply
  13. The Museum was fascinating, Sue. There were lots of other types of instruments like sextants and chronometers too, which I also find fascinating. Like you, I didn’t have much skill in science but seeing things through a microscope was really amazing, and I’ve come to be very interested in other scientific endeavors. Museums really help get one excited about such things!

    Reply
  14. The Museum was fascinating, Sue. There were lots of other types of instruments like sextants and chronometers too, which I also find fascinating. Like you, I didn’t have much skill in science but seeing things through a microscope was really amazing, and I’ve come to be very interested in other scientific endeavors. Museums really help get one excited about such things!

    Reply
  15. The Museum was fascinating, Sue. There were lots of other types of instruments like sextants and chronometers too, which I also find fascinating. Like you, I didn’t have much skill in science but seeing things through a microscope was really amazing, and I’ve come to be very interested in other scientific endeavors. Museums really help get one excited about such things!

    Reply
  16. What a fascinating insight into a topic I have never thought of researching. We take for granted reading glasses, microscopes and other sorts of lenses. I look forward to see how you weave your research through your story.

    Reply
  17. What a fascinating insight into a topic I have never thought of researching. We take for granted reading glasses, microscopes and other sorts of lenses. I look forward to see how you weave your research through your story.

    Reply
  18. What a fascinating insight into a topic I have never thought of researching. We take for granted reading glasses, microscopes and other sorts of lenses. I look forward to see how you weave your research through your story.

    Reply
  19. What a fascinating insight into a topic I have never thought of researching. We take for granted reading glasses, microscopes and other sorts of lenses. I look forward to see how you weave your research through your story.

    Reply
  20. What a fascinating insight into a topic I have never thought of researching. We take for granted reading glasses, microscopes and other sorts of lenses. I look forward to see how you weave your research through your story.

    Reply
  21. What a wonderful blog! I loved the history of this particular science.
    My lens is reading glasses, so I can enjoy all that the Word Wenches write!
    When I was nine I asked for a microscope. I loved to look at the slides of bugs and leaves that were included.

    Reply
  22. What a wonderful blog! I loved the history of this particular science.
    My lens is reading glasses, so I can enjoy all that the Word Wenches write!
    When I was nine I asked for a microscope. I loved to look at the slides of bugs and leaves that were included.

    Reply
  23. What a wonderful blog! I loved the history of this particular science.
    My lens is reading glasses, so I can enjoy all that the Word Wenches write!
    When I was nine I asked for a microscope. I loved to look at the slides of bugs and leaves that were included.

    Reply
  24. What a wonderful blog! I loved the history of this particular science.
    My lens is reading glasses, so I can enjoy all that the Word Wenches write!
    When I was nine I asked for a microscope. I loved to look at the slides of bugs and leaves that were included.

    Reply
  25. What a wonderful blog! I loved the history of this particular science.
    My lens is reading glasses, so I can enjoy all that the Word Wenches write!
    When I was nine I asked for a microscope. I loved to look at the slides of bugs and leaves that were included.

    Reply
  26. What a fascinating post! Thank you, Andrea. I’m another who wears glasses; I’ve been wearing them since age 16. I don’t need glasses to read books or Kindle, but I do need them for distance. What I’ve noticed since turning fifty is that ‘far’ is now getting closer and closer. I’m wearing a pair of glasses now to read the computer screen.

    Reply
  27. What a fascinating post! Thank you, Andrea. I’m another who wears glasses; I’ve been wearing them since age 16. I don’t need glasses to read books or Kindle, but I do need them for distance. What I’ve noticed since turning fifty is that ‘far’ is now getting closer and closer. I’m wearing a pair of glasses now to read the computer screen.

    Reply
  28. What a fascinating post! Thank you, Andrea. I’m another who wears glasses; I’ve been wearing them since age 16. I don’t need glasses to read books or Kindle, but I do need them for distance. What I’ve noticed since turning fifty is that ‘far’ is now getting closer and closer. I’m wearing a pair of glasses now to read the computer screen.

    Reply
  29. What a fascinating post! Thank you, Andrea. I’m another who wears glasses; I’ve been wearing them since age 16. I don’t need glasses to read books or Kindle, but I do need them for distance. What I’ve noticed since turning fifty is that ‘far’ is now getting closer and closer. I’m wearing a pair of glasses now to read the computer screen.

    Reply
  30. What a fascinating post! Thank you, Andrea. I’m another who wears glasses; I’ve been wearing them since age 16. I don’t need glasses to read books or Kindle, but I do need them for distance. What I’ve noticed since turning fifty is that ‘far’ is now getting closer and closer. I’m wearing a pair of glasses now to read the computer screen.

    Reply
  31. Great post, as usual! I remember too, how fascinating it was looking through the lens of a microscope as a young person. My most valued lens today is the lens in my reading glasses. What would I do without them?

    Reply
  32. Great post, as usual! I remember too, how fascinating it was looking through the lens of a microscope as a young person. My most valued lens today is the lens in my reading glasses. What would I do without them?

    Reply
  33. Great post, as usual! I remember too, how fascinating it was looking through the lens of a microscope as a young person. My most valued lens today is the lens in my reading glasses. What would I do without them?

    Reply
  34. Great post, as usual! I remember too, how fascinating it was looking through the lens of a microscope as a young person. My most valued lens today is the lens in my reading glasses. What would I do without them?

    Reply
  35. Great post, as usual! I remember too, how fascinating it was looking through the lens of a microscope as a young person. My most valued lens today is the lens in my reading glasses. What would I do without them?

    Reply
  36. Thanks, Patricia. So glad you enjoy our nerdy explorations! Yes, reading glasses are one of the GREAT inventions in history.
    Microscopes are one of the wonderful ways to get kids excited about science. That reaction of wonder at seeing things in a different way really sparks one’s imagination, which is important for any endeavor, be it writing or quantum physics.

    Reply
  37. Thanks, Patricia. So glad you enjoy our nerdy explorations! Yes, reading glasses are one of the GREAT inventions in history.
    Microscopes are one of the wonderful ways to get kids excited about science. That reaction of wonder at seeing things in a different way really sparks one’s imagination, which is important for any endeavor, be it writing or quantum physics.

    Reply
  38. Thanks, Patricia. So glad you enjoy our nerdy explorations! Yes, reading glasses are one of the GREAT inventions in history.
    Microscopes are one of the wonderful ways to get kids excited about science. That reaction of wonder at seeing things in a different way really sparks one’s imagination, which is important for any endeavor, be it writing or quantum physics.

    Reply
  39. Thanks, Patricia. So glad you enjoy our nerdy explorations! Yes, reading glasses are one of the GREAT inventions in history.
    Microscopes are one of the wonderful ways to get kids excited about science. That reaction of wonder at seeing things in a different way really sparks one’s imagination, which is important for any endeavor, be it writing or quantum physics.

    Reply
  40. Thanks, Patricia. So glad you enjoy our nerdy explorations! Yes, reading glasses are one of the GREAT inventions in history.
    Microscopes are one of the wonderful ways to get kids excited about science. That reaction of wonder at seeing things in a different way really sparks one’s imagination, which is important for any endeavor, be it writing or quantum physics.

    Reply
  41. Glasses for me too is the most important. I’ve been wearing them for thirty five years now and they have been vari-focals for a few years now. My father, God rest him, always blamed all my reading for the bad eye sight!!! A small price to pay as I couldn’t do without my books.
    Both my daughters wear glasses. My eldest has terrible eye sight. Where would she be without lenses!!!
    Great post Andrea.

    Reply
  42. Glasses for me too is the most important. I’ve been wearing them for thirty five years now and they have been vari-focals for a few years now. My father, God rest him, always blamed all my reading for the bad eye sight!!! A small price to pay as I couldn’t do without my books.
    Both my daughters wear glasses. My eldest has terrible eye sight. Where would she be without lenses!!!
    Great post Andrea.

    Reply
  43. Glasses for me too is the most important. I’ve been wearing them for thirty five years now and they have been vari-focals for a few years now. My father, God rest him, always blamed all my reading for the bad eye sight!!! A small price to pay as I couldn’t do without my books.
    Both my daughters wear glasses. My eldest has terrible eye sight. Where would she be without lenses!!!
    Great post Andrea.

    Reply
  44. Glasses for me too is the most important. I’ve been wearing them for thirty five years now and they have been vari-focals for a few years now. My father, God rest him, always blamed all my reading for the bad eye sight!!! A small price to pay as I couldn’t do without my books.
    Both my daughters wear glasses. My eldest has terrible eye sight. Where would she be without lenses!!!
    Great post Andrea.

    Reply
  45. Glasses for me too is the most important. I’ve been wearing them for thirty five years now and they have been vari-focals for a few years now. My father, God rest him, always blamed all my reading for the bad eye sight!!! A small price to pay as I couldn’t do without my books.
    Both my daughters wear glasses. My eldest has terrible eye sight. Where would she be without lenses!!!
    Great post Andrea.

    Reply
  46. Glasses, then binoculars then a hand lens. But definitely glasses. I started wearing them when I was ten or there abouts and definitely remember going, wow…trees have leaves. Wow…look at the letters on those signs.. So on and so forth.
    I’ve got graduated bifocals now and use my glasses for everything BUT reading. If I didn’t have glasses I would be able to read but I wouldn’t be able to drive.
    The next set of lens would be my binoculars to watch birds and to see what is at the top of the trees. Especially in the spring to decide if the red maples are blooming and that is why my allergies are running rampant (grin).
    A hand lens so I can see the very fascinating flower parts and beauty of a boring flower. Some flowers look really boring until you look at them with a hand lens.

    Reply
  47. Glasses, then binoculars then a hand lens. But definitely glasses. I started wearing them when I was ten or there abouts and definitely remember going, wow…trees have leaves. Wow…look at the letters on those signs.. So on and so forth.
    I’ve got graduated bifocals now and use my glasses for everything BUT reading. If I didn’t have glasses I would be able to read but I wouldn’t be able to drive.
    The next set of lens would be my binoculars to watch birds and to see what is at the top of the trees. Especially in the spring to decide if the red maples are blooming and that is why my allergies are running rampant (grin).
    A hand lens so I can see the very fascinating flower parts and beauty of a boring flower. Some flowers look really boring until you look at them with a hand lens.

    Reply
  48. Glasses, then binoculars then a hand lens. But definitely glasses. I started wearing them when I was ten or there abouts and definitely remember going, wow…trees have leaves. Wow…look at the letters on those signs.. So on and so forth.
    I’ve got graduated bifocals now and use my glasses for everything BUT reading. If I didn’t have glasses I would be able to read but I wouldn’t be able to drive.
    The next set of lens would be my binoculars to watch birds and to see what is at the top of the trees. Especially in the spring to decide if the red maples are blooming and that is why my allergies are running rampant (grin).
    A hand lens so I can see the very fascinating flower parts and beauty of a boring flower. Some flowers look really boring until you look at them with a hand lens.

    Reply
  49. Glasses, then binoculars then a hand lens. But definitely glasses. I started wearing them when I was ten or there abouts and definitely remember going, wow…trees have leaves. Wow…look at the letters on those signs.. So on and so forth.
    I’ve got graduated bifocals now and use my glasses for everything BUT reading. If I didn’t have glasses I would be able to read but I wouldn’t be able to drive.
    The next set of lens would be my binoculars to watch birds and to see what is at the top of the trees. Especially in the spring to decide if the red maples are blooming and that is why my allergies are running rampant (grin).
    A hand lens so I can see the very fascinating flower parts and beauty of a boring flower. Some flowers look really boring until you look at them with a hand lens.

    Reply
  50. Glasses, then binoculars then a hand lens. But definitely glasses. I started wearing them when I was ten or there abouts and definitely remember going, wow…trees have leaves. Wow…look at the letters on those signs.. So on and so forth.
    I’ve got graduated bifocals now and use my glasses for everything BUT reading. If I didn’t have glasses I would be able to read but I wouldn’t be able to drive.
    The next set of lens would be my binoculars to watch birds and to see what is at the top of the trees. Especially in the spring to decide if the red maples are blooming and that is why my allergies are running rampant (grin).
    A hand lens so I can see the very fascinating flower parts and beauty of a boring flower. Some flowers look really boring until you look at them with a hand lens.

    Reply
  51. I love binoculars too, for wildlife. And a magnifying gless is is wonderful for looking at things up close (I love that you look at flowers!. I really like my camera too. I take a lot of pictures on my evening plotting walks of Nature—the light on the water, the wildlife, etc. I really enjoy capturing some of the little snippets of daily beauty in the world around me.

    Reply
  52. I love binoculars too, for wildlife. And a magnifying gless is is wonderful for looking at things up close (I love that you look at flowers!. I really like my camera too. I take a lot of pictures on my evening plotting walks of Nature—the light on the water, the wildlife, etc. I really enjoy capturing some of the little snippets of daily beauty in the world around me.

    Reply
  53. I love binoculars too, for wildlife. And a magnifying gless is is wonderful for looking at things up close (I love that you look at flowers!. I really like my camera too. I take a lot of pictures on my evening plotting walks of Nature—the light on the water, the wildlife, etc. I really enjoy capturing some of the little snippets of daily beauty in the world around me.

    Reply
  54. I love binoculars too, for wildlife. And a magnifying gless is is wonderful for looking at things up close (I love that you look at flowers!. I really like my camera too. I take a lot of pictures on my evening plotting walks of Nature—the light on the water, the wildlife, etc. I really enjoy capturing some of the little snippets of daily beauty in the world around me.

    Reply
  55. I love binoculars too, for wildlife. And a magnifying gless is is wonderful for looking at things up close (I love that you look at flowers!. I really like my camera too. I take a lot of pictures on my evening plotting walks of Nature—the light on the water, the wildlife, etc. I really enjoy capturing some of the little snippets of daily beauty in the world around me.

    Reply

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