Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (Figure 10.1) was the first to use magnifying lenses for the study of microbial life, which he referred to as animalcules (Figure 10.2). Leeuwenhoek
Figure 10.1 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. (Portrait by Jan Verkolje, 1686.)
was a Dutch textile merchant, who probably used his magnifying lenses initially to study the quality of textile weaves. Although he lacked formal academic training, his letters (which carefully documented his findings) in the 1670s and 1680s to England's newly formed Royal Society captured an immediate, and undoubtedly astonished audience with many of the world's most prominent scientists. Leeuwenhoek's microscope (Figure 10.3) was deceptively simple, with a single, nearly spherical lens (his records indicated that he ground more than 400 such lenses in his lifetime) affixed to a back plate; the distance from an opposing mounting pin was coarsely adjusted with focusing screws.
This device provided magnifications ranging from 50 to 300 power. The realm newly revealed beneath this tool offered an astounding array and abundance of life, leading him to comment that "there are more animals living in the scum of the teeth in a man's mouth, than there are men in an entire kingdom.'' Indeed, the world depicted within Leeuwenhoek's extremely accurate drawings covered a wide range of animalcules, which are now recognized as bacteria, protozoans, algae, and fungi.
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