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Durham University

Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Dr Cheryl Lancaster

Lancaster, C. (2014). A focus on the history of light microscopy for cell culture. Kaleidoscope 6(1): 27-47.

Author(s) from Durham


This essay will consider the use and influence of light microscopy (and its variants) in biological cell culture. Improvements in technology generated several instruments for use by scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and the microscope is one example. Beginning with the development of the microscope and tracing its prominence through the first observations in the seventeenth century, the lack of technical development in the eighteenth century, and a revival in the nineteenth century, this essay will consider how the microscope became a ‘black box’ in twentieth century cell biology. To do this, the use of the light microscope and its variants is considered in relation to cell biology and cell culture; a field of research and a technique that became increasingly important in the twentieth century, making light microscopy indispensable. Despite the apparent rise in understanding of cell culture techniques and the loss of light microscopy understanding and techniques, I suggest that both microscopy and cell culture have become standardised methods in modern biological science, with generally little in-depth understanding of either in the youngest generations of twenty-first century biologists.