The Royal Society
Thu 14 Sep 2023
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
From Leeuwenhoek to the Electron Microscope image

Join for a discussion and Q&A with Professor Katharine Cashman FRS, Professor Matthew Cobb, and Dr Dirk van Miert to celebrate Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and the development of microscopy to the present day.
In this discussion chaired by Dirk van Miert, director of the Huygens Institute for the History and Culture of the Netherlands, Katharine Cashman and Matthew Cobb will explore the development of microscopy and its applications in their respective areas of research. The presentations will be followed by a live Q&A, where audiences in person and online can join the conversation.
This event is taking place with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the United Kingdom
Looking through rocks: applications to volcano research, past and present
Katharine V Cashman FRS, University of Oregon, USA
The development of microscopic petrography (examination of ‘thin sections’ of rocks using a specially designed microscope) in the mid-nineteenth century revolutionised both the study of minerals and of the rocks that they form. Microscopy was particularly important for the study of volcanic rocks, where the constituent crystals are typically very small because of rapid cooling during eruption. Example studies from 19th century eruptions of Krakatau, Indonesia, and Kilauea, Hawaii, will provide a platform for tracing developments in volcanic petrography through the introduction of electron microscopy in the mid-twentieth century to modern applications of micro-computed tomography, a non-destructive technique that allows rock structures and compositions to be studied in three dimensions. Finally, Katharine will illustrate ways in which these developments in microscopy have contributed to a fundamental paradigm shift in our understanding of the structure of subvolcanic systems and links to the eruptive behaviour of volcanoes.
The power and the process of microscopic images: from the single lens to Photoshop
Matthew Cobb, University of Manchester
The development of the microscope as a scientific instrument in the second half of the seventeenth century posed a major problem. As a visual instrument, it required some representation of what could be seen in order to convince other thinkers, and sometimes the general public, that what was claimed to be seen could in fact be seen. At the time, the production of printed images involved a complex process of seeing, drawing, engraving and printing, with different eyes seeing different things at each stage. In no case was the same person involved in every step of the process. Frustrations with printing were often expressed by authors, and sometimes images that were meant as hypotheses were taken to be real by readers and viewers. Today our technology enables us to reproduce what can be seen down a microscope and we can manipulate it in order to clarify, or sometimes, to deceive. Through the use of AI, we are able to create apparently truthful images of things that do not exist. The issues of trust, reliability and misinformation that characterise our world were also present, in embryo, in the seventeenth century.
Katharine Cashman is a volcanologist who studies links between chemical and physical factors that control magma ascent, eruption, and emplacement on the Earth’s surface. She has studied volcanoes on six of the seven continents that encompass a range of eruption styles and magma compositions. She has been elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society, and is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. She is Professor at the University of Oregon.
Matthew Cobb is Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester where he researches the neurobiology of smell. He is also an historian of science, focusing on biology in the 17th and 20th centuries. He has written extensively on the early Dutch microscopist Jan Swammerdam and makes use of microscopes extensively in his own scientific research.
Dirk van Miert specializes in the early modern history of learning, with a particular attention to knowledge networks, universities and philology. He was co-editor of edition of the correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger, author of The emancipation of Biblical Philology in the Dutch Republic (2018) and PI of the ERC-Consolidator project Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary NETworks. He is now director of the Huygens Institute for the History and Culture of the Netherlands and a guest researcher at Utrecht University.