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Published March 13, 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

Micrographia of the twenty-first century: from camera obscura to 4D microscopy


In this paper, the evolutionary and revolutionary developments of microscopic imaging are overviewed with a perspective on origins. From Alhazen's camera obscura, to Hooke and van Leeuwenhoek's two-dimensional optical micrography, and on to three- and four-dimensional (4D) electron microscopy, these developments over a millennium have transformed humans' scope of visualization. The changes in the length and time scales involved are unimaginable, beginning with the visible shadows of candles at the centimetre and second scales, and ending with invisible atoms with space and time dimensions of sub-nanometre and femtosecond. With these advances it has become possible to determine the structures of matter and to observe their elementary dynamics as they unfold in real time. Such observations provide the means for visualizing materials behaviour and biological function, with the aim of understanding emergent phenomena in complex systems.

Additional Information

© 2010 The Royal Society. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Theme Issue 'Personal perspectives in the physical sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary' compiled and edited by Michael Pepper. This perspective is based on a recent invited review article (Zewail in press) and the monograph co-authored with Sir John Meurig Thomas (Zewail & Thomas 2009). The author wishes to acknowledge enjoyable scholarly discussions and collaboration with John throughout the development of the field of 4D electron microscopy, which has captured John's attention since the inception of the concept (Thomas 1991, 2004, 2005, 2009). This research was carried out with support from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research at the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology (UST) established at Caltech by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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