An enduring love of the Microscope - The Quekett turns 150

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On 19th July, I travelled to London to attend the 150th anniversary meeting of the Quekett Microscopy Club. The group who describe themselves as ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ certainly know their stuff when it comes to all things relating to light microscopy. From the outset, the ‘club’ was intentionally named as such to set it apart from a society such as the Royal Microscopical Society (RMS), which was formed 26 years earlier and was considered to be for the professional microscopists of the time. That being said the Quekett has professionals and former professionals within its membership all of whom are unified by their love of light microscopy. From reading the journal (published twice yearly) and bulletin one gets the sense that there is a genuine love of acquiring images of the ‘small’ world around us and a particular detail to the antique microscopes, meticulously prepared historical slides and historical microscopy techniques. The group also endeavour to promote the use of microscopes of all ages and have advice on the use of digital cameras, conversion of microscopes to use modern (LED) light sources and display images or write about their most recently imaged samples using their microscopes

The 150th meeting itself was a grand affair held at the royal college of surgeons in the heart of London. Around 100 of the 400 strong membership turned out to celebrate, and tour the collection of microscope artefacts and slides from the clubs history, which were on show in the college’s Huntarian museum, which was once curated by Quekett himself.

 

QMC president Carel Sartory calling the meeting attendees to assemble for the meeting (image courtesy of QMC)

After a welcome by the QMC president, Carel Sartory, the opening address was from Bryan Bracegurdle, the club historian, who kept us spellbound with his account of the formation of the Quekett club in 1865 and its early and rapid growth amongst the gentry who had access to microscope technology of the age. What followed was a whistle-stop tour through the major developments of the club;  its journal (first published in 1868), first practical classes (1869) and the various excursions that the members took over the years to collect samples. He also followed the meeting place of the club over the years which included the Royal Society at Burlington house and its current one the Natural History Museum. It was also fascinating to hear how the club continued to meet regularly despite two world wars!

The second speaker was David Linstead, who shared his experiences of retiring and moving from research grade microscopes and learning to use inexpensive digital cameras on second-hand microscopes to produce both videos and amazing images on a PC with free software. David blew our minds of with all of his images, especially those that use the concepts of stacking and stitching of images, one of which had won a prize in the MMC 2015 international micrograph competition.

 

David Linstead wows the audience with his images taken with inexpensive microscopy equipment (image courtesy of QMC)

Jeremy Sanderson enlightened the audience to six recent developments in light microscopy, most of which should be familiar to M&A readers,  but which made many eyes in the audience bulge at the multi-coloured images courtesy of multi-photon fluorescence microscopy , levels of detail now available using super-resolution microscopy and 3-dimensional microscopy using SPIM or confocal microscopy. The other comment from the club members over coffee was the cost of some of the instrumentation, which served to highlight how far research microscopy is from the typical equipment accessed by the club members and its origins.

My favourite address of the day came from Eric Hollowday, who now at age 91, recounted some of his ’70 years a Queketteer’ and told the story of his first attendance at a Quekett meeting during the autumn of 1941 as a teenager. In his youth he became interested in using microscopy to observe rotifers in local rivers and corresponded with Mr E Garner (a Quekett member), who invited him to attend a meeting at Burlington House and he joined the club aged 18 (the youngest member at the time). He was actively involved in observing marine rotifers whilst serving in the Royal Navy during WWII and at the meeting there was a display of his work from 1946-1951 was on show. I spoke to him afterwards and enquired about his work and his contributions to scientific publications and was amazed to find that despite his exquisitely detailed hand drawn micrographs, he had spent his working life as a farmer, returning to rotifers once retired and contributing to monographs that are internationally respected. This in essence sums up the Quekett ethos, that microscopy is a love and a passion that can be enjoyed by young and old, because of the fascination it inspires and the enjoyment that it brings.

 

One of the many hand-drawn micrographs of a rotifer by Eric Hollowday (shown right) (images courtesy of QMC)

The final talk was about the work that the Huntarian had been doing to catalogue some of the tens of thousands of microscope slides and microscopy related artefacts that the club has built up over its 150 years. Sam Alberti and Emmy Bocage detailed the cataloguing and restoration of slides and it became obvious that the collection host a diverse mixture of slides from every corner of the globe and from coal to corneas and feather and bone. After this the attendees were invited to tour the museum and look at some of the collection. Finally there was cake and wine to round off a fascinating day that had

 

Attendees admiring the microscope slide collection at the Huntarian, followed by cake! (image courtesy of QMC)

For further information of the Quekett visit their website www.quekett.org and follow on Facebook and Twitter!

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