Neutron tomography of Van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes

Tiemen Cocquyt*, Zhou Zhou, Jeroen Plomp, Lambert Van Eijck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


The technique of neutron tomography has, after 350 years, enabled a first look inside the iconic single-lens microscopes of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Van Leeuwenhoek's 17th-century discovery of "animalcules"marks the birth of microbiology. His skillfully self-produced microscope lenses remained unsurpassed for over 150 years. Neutron tomography now enabled us to reveal the lens types Van Leeuwenhoek used. We argue that Van Leeuwenhoek's instruments incorporate some innovations that testify to an awareness of concurrent developments. In particular, our analysis shows that for making his best-performing microscopes, Van Leeuwenhoek deployed a lens-making procedure popularized in 1678 by Robert Hooke. This is notable, as Hooke always wanted to find the secret of Van Leeuwenhoek's lenses, but never managed to do so. Therefore, Van Leeuwenhoek was far from the isolated scholar he is often claimed to be; rather, his secrecy about his lenses was motivated by an attempt to conceal his indebtedness to Hooke.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabf2402
Number of pages6
JournalScience Advances
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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