A sketch circulated by Pablo Guerra Lahoz on Twitter prompted me to put together this brief chronicle of the invention that has changed our lives in so many ways. What I didn’t realize was that Ernst Ruska started his studies at the Technical University Munich in 1929, where I got my Ph.D. in 1970. He went to the Technical University of Berlin in 1927 where he finished his Ph.D. in 1933. He hypothesized that electrons with their much smaller wavelength could be used to image objects with much higher resolution than light microscopes. The sketch dated March 9, 1931 is a testimony of brilliance.
For reasons unknown, it took 55 years, long after the electron microscope had proven its utility in Medicine and many fields of science, till he received a Nobel Prize for his work. He received it in what seems an afterthought in 1986, as he shared it with the two inventors of Atomic Force Microscopy, arguably an entirely unrelated invention except for the common term “Microscopy.” (Max Knoll, co-inventor of the electron microscope, had already died in 1969 and could not be considered under the Nobel rules).
Earlier in this blog I have put the spotlight on Ernst Ruska’s brother Helmut Ruska, who early on introduced the electron microscope to Medicine and had strong ties with the Wadsworth Center in Albany, the place where I did my research from 1975 to 2008.
–Joachim Frank Dec 26, 2019.
Sketch by Ernst Ruska, dated 9 March 1931, of the cathode ray tube for testing one-stage and two-stage electron-optical imaging by means of two magnetic electron lenses (“electron microscope”).
The first electron microscope demonstrated by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska in 1931 at the Technical University of Berlin. Ruska finished his Ph.D. in 1933.
Left: Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll with the first functioning electron microscope. Ernst Ruska (Dec 25, 1906 – May 27, 1988) shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 with the inventors of the Atomic Force Microscope, Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig.
Max Knoll (July 17, 1897 – Nov 6, 1969) was an electrical engineer who moved to the US in 1948 and worked in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University.