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Moving history

The Siemens IA Elmiskop electron microscope (circa 1964), formerly in the upper lobby of Whitaker Lab, was moved earlier this semester to the lower lobby where it will be showcased as an important part of our building’s history.

Moving the microscope required the assistance of an outside company. The Elmiskop IA weighs over 1000 pounds.

 
The Elmiskop electron microscope revolutionized the practice of microscopy. The first experimental electron microscope was invented in 1931 by German electrical engineers Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska. While a student, Ruska theorized that microscopes using electrons, with wavelengths 1000 times shorter than those of light, could provide a more detailed picture of an object than a microscope using light, in which magnification is limited by the size of the wavelengths. In 1931, Ruska demonstrated that a magnetic coil could act as an electron lens, and used several coils in a series to build the first electron microscope in 1933. The barrier to higher resolution that had been imposed by the limitations of visible light had finally been overcome.

Siemens hired Ruska to develop the first commercial microscope, which was marketed in late 1939. World War II hindered further development, but finally in 1954, Siemens introduced the Elmiskop I, and in 1964, the improved Elmiskop IA. Both were highly valued for their superior resolution and construction at the time.

Knoll went on to conduct experimental work in the burgeoning field of television design. He was also a professor and researcher at several institutions, including the University of Munich and Princeton University, eventually settling at the Technical University of Munich.

Ruska was awarded half of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for his work in electron optics (Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer shared the other half for their design of the scanning tunneling microscope).

Al Romig, a LehighMSE distinguished alum who was there on moving day, recalled the days when the microscope was used on the first floor for instruction. Romig received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Lehigh in 1975, 1977 and 1979.

Professor Charles Lyman, co-organizer of the annual Lehigh Microscopy School since 1985, helped establish the original lobby exhibit. “It was moved to the lobby sometime between 1987 and 1989 after a year or two of sectioning and polishing its internal parts,”, said Lyman. “Note the piece of paper taped to its desk, saying that it failed in 1986 on the day Ruska won the Nobel prize — basically for its design.”

“It was quite a job just to move it to the lower lobby. I wonder how they got it upstairs from the first floor!” said Sharon Coe, event coordinator for the Lehigh Microscopy School. “I’ve been trying to save the microscope for years; I’m very excited to see that it will be preserved for future generations.”

Siemens recognized the importance of the Elmiskop to their history by dedicating a page to the microscope in their 2012 retrospective, “100: A Century of Siemens in Canada.” A reprint of an advertisement in a trade magazine from 1966 shows a photograph of graphite that reads, “At last…actually visible: For the first time, the hexagonal structure of graphite has been seen, with the Siemens Elmiskop.”

Similar microscopes are on display at the London Science Museum and the Physics Museum of the University of Queensland.

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