Optical Know-How from Micro to Macro

ZEISS innovation can be found in everything from microscopes to customized lenses in eyeglasses

ZEISS has been involved in researching the interaction between glass and the living human eye for 160 years. The company has been a pioneer in virtually all optical disciplines. ZEISS’ research has given the world numerous inventions and brand new developments, which continue to improve the fields of microscopy, space and camera optics even as we speak. ZEISS’ superior level of competency in visual optics remains undefeated. As someone who wears glasses or contact lenses, you can enjoy all of the benefits of excellent vision thanks to this competency.

Eye and eyeglasses are combined into an optical system

Optical Know-How from Micro to Macro

The interaction between eyes and eyeglasses is complex indeed. In research at ZEISS, we think outside the box. We make more than just eyeglass lenses. Our aim is to give patients perfect, brilliant vision by creating an optimum dialog between the eye and the visual aid – the lens.  

Truly perfect vision is the result of the harmonious interaction between highly evolved optical systems and Mother Nature.

It all began with the microscope – back in 1847

In September 1847, Carl Zeiss began manufacturing simple microscopes, which were used primarily in preparatory processes. At the time he worked out of his new workshop located in Wagnergasse 32 in the German city of Jena.

Even in the good old days, ZEISS-made tools were superior to those made by others. The fledgling company sold an impressive 23 of these preparatory microscopes that very first year. Over the next few years, consistent improvements were made to these models.

This was an amazing achievement considering that all of these devices were made on the basis of a trial-and-error approach rather than scientific knowledge. This may be hard to believe – but it is true, as no other way existed. Of course it was a very time-consuming and costly method.

Another factor to remember is that the overall quality of early microscopes was rather basic and the image depiction was slightly blurry. Carl Zeiss expected more from his products and discovered early on – as mechanization progressed and early industrial production began – that it was essential to combine science and manufacturing to be able to produce high performance tools efficiently.

In 1866, with the goal of developing improved microscopic lenses, he contacted physician and mathematician Dr. Ernst Abbe, who was 26 years old at the time and also taught at the University of Jena, after the 1,000th microscope had just left the Zeiss workshop.

The partnership of these two ingenious brains developed unimaginable technology over the years that followed. Based on the diffraction theory (wave optics), Abbe came up with the new theory of image development in microscopes. His thesis was published in 1873. Abbe used his theory to calculate the parameters for new microscopic lenses.

Ultimately, Abbe placed the production of lenses on a completely scientific basis when he designed measuring devices that were essential for the manufacturing of lenses boasting consistently high quality standards.

Even in his early work, Abbe was already aware of the fact that microscope lenses could only be perfected and reach their full potential if new types of glass were used. To achieve this, he invited glass chemist Otto Schott to come to Jena in 1882. Zeiss and Abbe became partners in the newly-established glass technology laboratory Schott & Genossen in 1884. The foundation of this company also marked the creation of the basis for modern high performance optics.

Numerous Nobel Price laureates work with ZEISS products

Robert Koch, Nobel Price in Medicine 1905.

Robert Koch, Nobel Price in Medicine 1905.

Koch is considered the founder of modern bacteriology. A country family doctor, he discovered the tuberculosis bacteria and cholera virus in the 1880s. “Many of my achievements were only possible thanks to your excellent microscopes,” Koch states in a letter to Zeiss. In 1904 he was given the 10,000th homogenous immersion lens as a gift.

Richard Zsigmondy, Nobel Price in Chemistry 1925.

Richard Zsigmondy, Nobel Price in Chemistry 1925.

This Göttingen-based professor did groundbreaking work in the field of colloid chemistry. He invented the ultra-microscope in 1903, the membrane filter in 1918, and the ultra-fine filter in 1922. The ultra-microscope (according to Siedentopf/Zsigmondy) makes tiny particles visible whose linear expansions are actually below the resolution limit.

Frits Zernike, Nobelpreis für Physik 1953.

Frits Zernike, Nobelpreis für Physik 1953

In 1930, while performing experiments with reflection grills, this Dutch physicist discovered that he was able to observe the phase level of the individual light rays. He decided to try to transfer this finding to the microscope. In partnership with ZEISS, he developed the first phase-contrasting microscope. The prototype was completed in 1936. It allows scientists to study living cells without harming them by using chemical dyes.

Manfred Eigen, Nobel Price in Chemistry 1967.

Manfred Eigen, Nobel Price in Chemistry 1967.

A biophysicist and the founder of the Max-Planck-Institute for Bio-Physical Chemistry in Göttingen, Eigen developed a single molecule verification process. In cooperation with his Swedish colleague Rudolf Riegler and companies EVOTEC and ZEISS, he produced ConfoCor, the first commercially available fluorescence co-relation spectrometer, in 1995.

Neher, Nobel Price in Medicine 1991.

Neher, Nobel Price in Medicine 1991.

At the Max-Planck-Institute in Göttingen, Neher and Professor Sakmann discovered the basic mechanisms of cell communication. The process also included the performance of electro-physiological experiments on ion channels using the Patch-Clamp technique.

Bert Sakmann, Nobel Price in Medicine 1991.

Bert Sakmann, Nobel Price in Medicine 1991.

For the visual checks performed during the above experiments, the two scientists had to be able to rely on images depicting superior contrasts and with a high optical resolution. They used upright microscopes – all of which were supplied by ZEISS – that had been specifically designed for these applications.

Writing future history now

Limits are disappearing. New dimensions are beginning to emerge – dimensions that would have been the stuff of science fiction movies only a few years ago. The technological possibilities of ultra-modern microscopy are still immense and much remains unused. Tele-microscopy around the globe; digital communication at the speed of light. Three dimensional image series with high resolutions, excellent contrast in real time.

ZEISS can distinguish original Van Gogh paintings from counterfeits

Paintings by Vincent van Gogh fetch amazing sums at galleries and auctions now – prices the artist could not even have dreamed of during his lifetime. After spending time in Antwerp and Paris, this illustrious artist painted 187 pictures in the small Provence town Arles in a period of only 16 months. This creative phase is marked by the characteristic blue and yellow colors that are identified with the South of France, which appear in all of these paintings. However, some people believe that van Gogh may not have painted all of the paintings from that era that are said to be his.


A research project is underway to determine the facts. ZEISS employees are looking into the authenticity of these paintings in partnership with the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam and the Shell Oil Corporation.


Micro structures, pigments and the foundations on the paintings indicate who the creator of these paintings really was. Researchers are working with a ZEISS transmission electron microscope (TEM) to analyze ultra-thin pieces of loosened paint particles. The result could render alleged van Gogh paintings worthless in a heartbeat.


How does this process work? An ion beam cuts microscopically small pieces from the material in the form of cross sections. Placed under the TEM, the prepared specimen can be examined using a special analytical process that can determine the precise composition of the materials in the sample


What did the researchers find out? Van Gogh preferred to use a white lead pigment base blended with parchment white. The TEM makes it possible to recognize the individual material preferences and painting techniques of an artist 120 years after a painting was completed.