Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
Exhibition National Museum of Scotland

Microscopes: Nature Revealed

29 Mar - 15 Sep 2019

Grand Gallery, Level 1


This display told the stories of the makers and users of an instrument that has been fundamental in improving our understanding of the natural world.

Viewing invisible worlds through the microscope is an activity that fascinates people today as much as it did in the 17th century. From the engravings in Robert Hooke's Micrographia published in 1665 to today's stunning photographs, the ability to share, discuss and learn from what we see is a strong thread running through the display.

A petrological microscope used by mineralogist Jessie M Sweet, who worked for both the British Museum and National Museums Scotland in the mid-20th century.

Folding pocket microscope in a case, c. 1800. Museum reference: T.1938.103

The display explores how the microscope helped to promote an interest in the natural sciences, through public shows and demonstrations and a growing number of special interest groups and publications.

Highlight objects include a solar microscope used to wow 18th-century audiences at popular science shows and a 'Museum Microscope' for visitors to view microscopic specimens in the galleries, designed by Francis Grant Ogilvie, a former director of this museum from 1900–1903.

The display also highlights the significant research that is carried out at the National Museums Collection Centre by our Natural Sciences department, and how the microscope is a vital tool in increasing and sharing our knowledge of the collections.


Share your exhibition highlights on social media.

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF

Map and directions

We want everyone who comes to our museums to enjoy their time with us and make the most of their visit. 


  • There is level access to the Museum via the main doors to the Entrance Hall on Chambers Street and the Tower entrance at the corner of Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. 
  • Lifts are available to all floors and accessible toilets are available on most floors, as well as a Changing Places (U) toilet in the Entrance Hall on Level 0.
  • There is an induction loop in the Auditorium.
  • Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted.


Find out more about our access information.

Explore more


The ancestor of the microscope, as we know it today, was first described in 1625. Still, it took another 250 years until the microscope was fully accepted as a scientific instrument.

Reflecting and Refracting Telescopes

People throughout history have looked up to the sky for answers: to measure time, mark seasons, and navigate vast oceans. The sky at night inspires with beautiful images, and promises answers to big questions.
Back to top