Accession No


Brief Description

custom interference microscope, designed by Andrew Huxley, by R. and J. Beck (with custom components by Andrew Huxley), English, 1952-1953


England; London


R. and J. Beck Huxley, Andrew [some custom components] Carl Zeiss [optical parts]



Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1952

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1953

Inscription Date


metal (steel, brass, aluminium alloy, chrome); enamel; glass; plastic (Bakelite); paper (paper, card); wood; cloth (baize); rope (string)


microscope: 195mm (width), 240mm (depth), 450mm (height); box: 245mm (width), 275mm (depth), 490mm (height)

Special Collection

Andrew Huxley Collection


Transferred from the Trinity College Library, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, in 03/2014. Donated by the family of Andrew Huxley to the Library of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, in 2012.



1 DIV. =
005 mm

Description Notes

Custom interference microscope, designed by Andrew Huxley, by R. and J. Beck (with custom components by Andrew Huxley), English, 1952-1953.

Black-painted and silver metal, monocular, compound microscope on a Y-shaped stand, with custom-made components on one side. The microscope is housed in a fitted wooden box, lined with green baize in places, with a lock and key on the front. The box has a XIX International Physiological Congress label and BOAC luggage tag attached to the handle. The box also contains two Wollaston prisms and small scrap of paper that can be held in a custom-made metal component, six glass slides (one in a case), a spring, and smaller removable box. The smaller box contains slide grease, Ragosine instrument grease, two lenses, one screw, and three components).

List of parts:
- Microscope
- Removable eyepiece
- Microscope eyepiece cover
- Wooden microscope box
- Key
- Removable custom-made component (3 parts - silvery metal piece, spring, and reddish metal loop)
- 2 Wollaston prisms
- Small piece of paper with prisms
- Custom-made prism-holding component
- 6 glass slides
- 1 slide case with lid (2 parts)
- 1 spring
- Removable wooden box
- Beck Microscopes slide grease (2 parts)
- Ragosine instrument grease
- 2 lenses
- 1 screw
- 3 components



Dannielle Cagliuso; 'Frogs and Physiological Instruments in 20th Century Cambridge'; Explore Whipple Collections online article; Whipple Museum of the History of Science; University of Cambridge:


Andrew Huxley was a physiologist who is best known for his research with Alan Hodgkin on nerves, for which they won the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

After the completion of the research on nerves, Huxley began working on the 'reversal of striations', a phenomenon in muscle fibres observed under a microscope. He soon realised that the work required an interference microscope, a type of microscope that uses a prism to split light into two beams, which then pass through the specimen. Consequently, he collaborated with London microscope manufacturer R. and J. Beck to create a bespoke interference microscope for his research. A low-power version was made 1951-1952, but it did not work for Huxley's purposes, so this high-power version was made 1952-1953. It is made up of a standard Beck polarising microscope, with additional custom components (some made by Huxley himself).

Huxley wanted to commercially produce his design to make it widely available, but another firm held a comprehensive patent on interference microscopes that prevented him from doing so.
Created by: Morgan Bell on 11/04/2022


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