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The More Things Change... Microscopy at Jefferson

Reflecting Microscope, brass, first quarter of the 20th century. Instrument stamped, "The Jefferson Medical College." (University Archives: Memorabilia # 95-15)

Medical Media Services at TJU have recently announced that students and faculty will now have access to a new software program, Ultimate Microscope ®, through which the user may study prepared specimen "slides" via his or her computer. This advance in medical education was recently developed by Jefferson’s faculty and staff and appears to be part of a long tradition in cutting-edge applications of technology. Nearly 120 years ago the following appeared in print:

-- A Philadelphia correspondent of The Therapeutic Gazette, of November 15th, 1883, says the subject of micro-photography is attracting much attention just now among scientific circles, as a method of illustration possessing many advantages, especially to the student of pathology. Dr. Morris Longstreth is working up the subject at the Jefferson Medical College, in connection with his course in pathology. Dr. F.E. Stewart (Class of 1879) has suggested the use of micro-photographs on cards for class illustration. The points to be observed are appropriately marked on the cards, which are passed around the class. The teacher, with a similar card in his own hand, describes the picture to his class, who, with the card in their hands, are thus able to follow the description, and see for themselves at the same time - a thing not permitted if the microscope is used, unless every member of the class is provided with an instrument.

-- The College and Clinical Record, Dec. 1883

Since the ancients, "the study of disease" (pathology) had been an established area of medical investigation, but the understanding on a cellular level could only move forward with improved microscopes. Rudolph Virchow, the founder of cellular pathology, first published his findings in the 1860s and by 1867 JMC added to its curriculum a pathology lecture series, one of the first in the nation. JMC’s Pathology Department was established in 1891 and the first reference to microscopy in the College Catalog occurred in 1870s. By the turn of the 20th century, JMC student yearbooks had advertisements for microscopes. The Archives and Special Collections in Scott Library holds several early single lens instruments used by Jefferson students. At the time of America’s Centennial, Philadelphia as a center of manufacturing, boasted some of the best makers of scientific instruments, which included; Acme Optical Works, James W. Queen, and Joseph Zentmayer whose light microscope ("The Student") was awarded the highest rating by his contemporaries.

The Archives also maintains a collection of rare texts on the subject of pathology and the earliest works on microscopy such as our fully illustrated 1745 edition of Robert Hooke’s, Micrographia Restaurata.

Copperplate Engraving of Female Gnat, from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia Restaurata...Wonderful Discoveries by the Microscope, 1745 edition. (Special Collections, Quarto 578.H76 1745) Advertisement for student microscope, from JMC journal, Dunglison’s College and Clinical Record, March 15, 1899. (University Archives: Publications)

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