Frog-plates: Adams and Lieberkuhn Preparation Slides

Early microscopists seized on frogs as objects of study both for their anatomical similarity to humans and their translucent skin. But without the benefits of electric lighting, 18th-century microscopes struggled to adequately illuminate their subjects. George Adams and Johann Nathanael Lieberkühn devised solutions to practical problems of vivisection, including of illumination, with their tables for displaying 'prepared,' living frog specimens. Technical advances of this kind facilitated new ways of seeing and understanding frogs' bodies.

Frog plate
Image 1 Frog plate by George Adams, 18th century (Wh.1230). Image © the Whipple Museum.

Whipple Museum object Wh.1230 may look like a bed, but it's not one that any frog would like to find itself sleeping in. George Adams Sr., a London instrument maker and microscopist, devised this 'frog-plate' to support, immobilize, and display the vivisected bodies of frogs under a microscope. In the early 18th century, the microscope was a recent invention, as our Microscopes section shows, and its emergence enabled a new approach to studies of the animal body. Though natural historians had long recorded the behaviors, qualities, and emblematic meanings of frogs, never had naturalists captured and subjected frogs to the type of violent scrutiny facilitated by Adams' slide.

For an overview of this tool's use, and its comparison to another manufactured by a German counterpart, see "Seeing life through the microscope: Adams' and Lieberkühn's frog-plates."

Scientists' engagement with the public influenced and responded to peoples' perceptions of the microscopic world and the wonder of nature. For an early example of how microscopists carefully presented their work to the public, see "Projecting the Wonder of Life: Displaying frogs to the public."

You can read more about how early microscopists examined living creatures here.

Henry Schmidt

Henry Schmidt, 'Frog-plates: Adams and Lieberkuhn Preparation Slides', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, []

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