Leeuwenhoek’s Microscope in the Classroom

An article from CBE – Life Sciences promotes Leeuwenhoek for teaching science history in high school. In the effort to motivate an interest in the history of science, this study from Brazil utilizes replicas of the Leeuwenhoek microscope to connect the past to the present. The abstract:
The history of science should be incorporated into science teaching as a means of improving learning and also to increase the students’ understanding about the nature of science. In biology education, the history of microscopy deserves a special place. The discovery of this instrument not only opened a new and fantastic microworld but also led to the development of one unifying principle of biological sciences (i.e., cell theory). The microscopes of Leeuwenhoek and Hooke opened windows into the microworld of living organisms. In the present work, the knowledge of these themes was analyzed in a group of students beginning an undergraduate biology course. Our data suggest that the history of microscopy is poorly treated at the secondary school level. We propose a didactic activity using a replica of Leeuwenhoek’s microscope made with Plexiglas and a lens obtained from a key chain laser pointer or from a broken CD drive. The proposed activity motivated students to learn about microscopy and helped them to appreciate scientific knowledge from a historical perspective.
Included with the study is supplemental material with instructions for the construction of replica Leeuwenhoek microscopes.
Lenira M.N. Sepel, Elgion L.S. Loreto, and João B.T. Rocha Using a Replica of Leeuwenhoek’s Microscope to Teach the History of Science and to Motivate Students to Discover the Vision and the Contributions of the First Microscopists
CBE Life Sci Educ 2009: 338–343. [Abstract] [Full Text]

Bridge to the Past – The Leeuwenhoek Microscope

I know I promised to stay away until fall, but this came up at Small Things Considered and I thought it deserved attention – recreating the past to better understand the present:

The Ten Minute Leeuwenhoek Microscope

by Patrick Keeling¹


Patrick melts a glass tube (while looking away!) to make
a Leeuwenhoek microscope at the UBC Advanced
Molecular Biology Labs High School Science Teacher
Conference (October, 2008). Source.

I was on leave from teaching for a couple of years. The summer before re-starting my third year Protistology course I began to think about some things I wanted to change. One thing I wanted to do was to add a section on the history of microbiology to put things into perspective and hopefully connect students with the material a bit. My colleague, Max Taylor, had a replica of a van Leeuwenhoek microscope that he once showed to me, and I thought it would be fun to make one as close to the original design as possible to show the class what it was like. I did some superficial snooping around about how it was built, including finding the original paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society where he described the design. I realized it would be pretty straightforward, including making a lens that was pretty close to the ones he would have used.

For the complete article and links to more on home-made Leeuwenhoek microscopes, please visit The Ten Minute Leeuwenhoek Microscope at Small Things Considered.

¹Patrick Keeling is a scholar of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Evolutionary Biology Program, and assistant professor, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia.