Electron Microscope

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Prebus and Hillier with microscope

North America’s First Electron Microscope

The sub-microscopic world became visible in 1938 when Canadian graduate students Albert Prebus and James Hillier revealed North America’s first electron microscope. With a 20,000-power magnification, the microscope transcended the limits of light-based microscopy and brought otherwise invisible structures and objects into sharp focus.

A massive discovery on a microscopic level 

Prebus and Hillier were members of the University of Toronto’s physics department and received critical technical support from the university’s skilled instrument makers, including machinist Grantley Woodward and glass blower Howard Chappelle. Together, they constructed this elegant and ground-breaking instrument from scratch during the Depression. The microscope, which drew on German research, established Canadian expertise in electron optics around the world.

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