Max Planck Institut for the History of Science

Generating Knowledge with the Microscope

Workshop at the MPI for the History of Science, June 23-24, 2006

The Theme

The microscope has often been described as an ‘extension of the senses’, a device that aids our eyes and thus enables us to see things that we cannot see with the naked eye. But of course, it is not as simple as that. Microscopical observation is a difficult and complicated art. Much depends on the correct preparation of the object, and it is by no means clear what it is that we see when we peer down the tube of a light microscope – if we see anything at all. If we consider the intricate procedures that are involved in obtaining micrographs with, say, an SEM or TEM, it may seem rather far-fetched to call this activity ‘observation’. So how can we characterize the practice of microscopy? Is it adequately described as an observational practice? What kind of knowledge is generated? How can we make sure that knowledge is generated at all, given that the results obtained are heavily dependent on the proper working of highly complex machinery? And what, exactly, is the object of the knowledge thus gained?

Friday June 23

Session 1 (Electron Microscopy)
14:00-14:45 Falk Müller (Frankfurt) Shadow Play - Image Processing in Electron Microscopy
14:45-15:30 Thomas Dohmen (Haifa) A 'Measurement Problem' in Electron Microscopy: Artifacts and the Limits of Knowledge Generation
15:45-16:30 Gabor Zemplen (Berlin/Budapest) Commentary & Discussion

Session 2 (STM)
17:00-17:45 Jochen Hennig (Berlin) Heterogeneity in scanning tunneling microscopic practice
17:45-18:30 Galina Granek & Giora Hon (Haifa) The Role of Error in Building the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM)
18:45-19:30 Lambert Williams (Berlin/Boston) Commentary & Discussion

Saturday June 24

Session 3: Observation and Observing Instruments
9:30-10:15 Peter Heering (Oldenburg/Augsburg) The Enlightened Microscope. Re-enacting and Analysing Projections With 18th Century Solar Microscopes
10:15-11:00 Jutta Schickore (Bloomington, IN) 'The Most Signal and Illustrious Instance of the Use of the Microscope’ – Benjamin Martin on the Insect Eye
11:15-12:00 Kelley Wilder (Berlin) Commentary and Discussion

Session 4: Aspects of Scientific Observation
2:00-2:45 Hasok Chang (London) Observations as Doings: a New Operationalism
2:45-3:30 Igal Dotan (Berlin) What is the Problem with Scientific Observations?
3:45-4:30 Uljana Feest (Berlin) Commentary & Discussion

“Generating Experimental Knowledge: Experimental Systems, Concept Formation, and the Pivotal Role of Error” (funded by the German-Israeli Foundation)
Principal Investigators Giora Hon (Haifa), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Berlin), Friedrich Steinle (Wuppertal)

Workshop Organizers
Uljana Feest (Berlin) & Jutta Schickore (Bloomington)

For Information and registration please contact Uljana Feest: feest(at)