Although the magnifying power of a glass lens has been known since the first century B.C., the earliest microscopes were invented in the mid-13th century. These early instruments only had a single lens and offered six to 10 times magnification. The first compound microscope was invented by a pair of Dutch glassmakers in 1590, and there have been a steady stream of improvements in microscopes since then. Many 21st-century professions, primarily in the scientific field, still require the use of microscopes.
Chemists and Biochemists
Microscopes are required for observation of materials at the molecular level or below, so chemists and biochemists become very familiar with microscopes and microscopy early in their careers. Some chemists are involved in basic research in how substances interact, others are involved in developing new materials or products. Different research applications require the use of specialized microscopes. Common types found in modern chemistry labs include inverted microscopes, stereo microscopes, polarized microscopes and even electron microscopes in well-equipped facilities.
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Zoologists and closely related wildlife biologists research the characteristics, behaviors and habitats of animals. These scientists often study wildlife in the field, but most also do a good bit of lab work, analyzing samples and growing cultures to research dietary habits or identify diseases or pathogens. Microscopes designed for biological research are among the primary tools for much of this lab work.
Forensic Scientists and Technicians
Forensic scientists and technicians work with law enforcement to solve crimes. They examine physical evidence collected from crime scenes, including hair, blood and skin samples, pieces of clothing and other personal belongings that might help law enforcement solve the case. Forensic scientists test evidence using a wide variety of chemical, physical, microbiological and genetic techniques, many of which involve the use of a microscope. Microscopes are used to identify what part of the body a hair came from, to match hairs, or in firearm identification or document examination.
The job title gives you a big hint that microbiologists use microscopes on a regular basis in their jobs. Microbiologists frequently use microscopes to identify bacteria and other microorganisms. The health care industry also employs many medical lab techs with microbiology backgrounds who use microscopes to identify pathogens in tissue samples or cultures. Lower-powered microscopes will do for basic lab tasks, but microbiologists who work with the smallest forms of life such as viruses and prions have to use powerful electron microscopes to be able to see the objects of their research.