The JOICO microscope:
The challenge of peering
deeply into the world

No.3 | 1925 | Revealing the “unseen world”

The JOICO microscope was the starting point for Nikon's microscope business. Based on the background of its birth, we will explore the genealogy of Nikon's technology that supports the "scientific thinking" that leads to today's bioscience products.

Contents supervisor: WIRED JAPAN, Japanese text: Hideto Mizutani, Photography: Junpei Kato, Editing: Shinya Yashiro

Nikon introduced the JOICO microscope in 1925. What the company’s first full-scale microscope provided was a high level of precision that was revolutionary at the time. Compared to other optical instruments such as telescopes, microscopes require the necessary lenses to be placed in a smaller space. Moreover, higher optical performance than that of such previous optical instruments was also crucial. Given these strict limitations, the team involved worked hard to create a design that controlled various aberrations to the maximum level possible.

Looking at the actual microscope, you can easily understand that their struggles to achieve the best possible results were not little at all. By combining the eyepiece and objective lens, which is only a few centimeters long, the JOICO had the capability to magnify up to 765 times. Also, the lens at the tip of the objective lens was extremely small, much smaller even than the size of a fingertip. Due to its tiny dimensions, it was essential for it to be processed manually by skilled engineers rather than by machines.

In a catalog released during the 1920s, it was stated that “It took many years of preparation before production of JOICO Microscopes…” Starting with the JOICO, Nikon firmly paved the way for microscope development.

The birth of the JOICO

Within Nikon’s articles of incorporation at the time of its founding it states, “The businesses that the company handles are… …microscopes, telescopes, and reflectors… ”. Microscopes have consistently been one of Nikon’s major manufactured products ever since that long-ago time. At the time of the company’s establishment, many of those who focused on developing the microscope were engineers invited from Germany.

Heinrich Acht, one of these engineers, possessed extensive experience in lens design technology, and worked to improve the precision of lenses while adopting new German methods. As a result of these efforts, Nikon was able to release the JOICO microscope as an export product.

Acht remained at Nikon until 1928, contributing to the design of camera lenses and microscope objective lenses. He also gave lectures on optical design to optical engineers within the company, teaching the essence of it. These lectures greatly contributed to the development of Nikon’s lens division, including microscope lenses, and the German-style design methods that he left behind became the foundation of lens design at Nikon.

More than just “seeing”

Since the release of the JOICO microscope in 1925, Nikon’s microscopes have been employed in a wide range of fields including medicine, biology and industry. This was realized because Nikon has continuously refined its microscope technology, starting with the German-style design methods. Among these, the Chromatic Aberration Free (CF) system, which was announced in 1975, nearly 50 years after the JOICO’s release, attracted much attention within the industry as its “first major technological innovation in 100 years.”

For microscopes up to that time, using the compensation method which was established at the end of the 19th century was considered common knowledge and standard practice. This is a method of correcting aberration by combining the objective lens and eyepiece of a microscope. The CF system developed by Nikon overturned the conventional wisdom by correcting aberrations of the objective lens and eyepieces separately.

The CF system, which replaced the traditional compensation method, dramatically improved not only the accuracy but also the expandability of microscopes. Since an eyepiece that corrects aberrations was no longer necessary, applications such as photographing objects using an objective lens, as well as laser irradiating in later years, became possible. This innovation enabled detailed observation, recording and analysis of the world that cannot be seen with the naked eyes, such as biological cells and nanomaterials. Subsequently, this led to many advances in a wide range of fields such as scientific research, medicine, and education.

The introduction of the CF system was a major milestone in Nikon’s microscope history, which was established and built up from the JOICO microscope in order to reveal the previously “unseen world.”

Leading the future of science

After these advances, with the arrival of the digital age in the late 1980s, Nikon’s microscopes underwent dramatic transformations such as automation and motorization. Changes in recording media made it possible to link data with computers, and innovations in image-processing technology have realized much more precise observation and analysis.

One of the engineers involved in microscope development for many years looks back on the fact that he was able to quickly advance the digitalization of microscopes in later years because he had worked on developing the CF system in the 1970s. In recent years, as digitalization has progressed further and the number of pixels on monitors has vastly increased, some researchers say that they have never even looked into the eyepiece of a microscope.

Nowadays, with rapid advancements in technology, microscopes are progressing far beyond the realms that can be imagined from the word “microscope”. For example, the latest equipment for culturing cells employs Nikon microscopes that automatically observe and judge the state of living cells. If the developers of the JOICO were able to see this “microscope”, their surprise would undoubtedly be immeasurable.

Nikon’s technological innovations have surpassed the role of simply making what was formerly invisible visible, and have enabled us to peer ever more deeply into the previously “unseen world”. The evolution of Nikon’s microscope technology that began so many years ago with the JOICO will continue into the future.

Contents supervisor: WIRED JAPAN, Japanese text: Hideto Mizutani, Photography: Junpei Kato, Editing: Shinya Yashiro