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

Using examples from our significant collection, we will see how optical improvements saw a change in the public perception of the microscope from being a simple optical toy to a reliable instrument of science.

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.

We will see 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 will 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 will also highlight 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.

Header image: 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.

Display information


29 Mar - 15 Sep 2019


National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh - Grand Gallery, Level 1

How much



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. Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted. Click here to find more information.

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