Sir Ronald Ross’s Slides under the Microscope

In 2015, students from the History & Health MSc module suggested that we put Sir Ronald Ross’s collection of malarial slides under the microscope. This collection, dating from the 1890s, in its beautiful wooden box, is one of my favourite items in the archive, so I have to admit I was a little nervous of undertaking such an experiment, but I had no need to worry!


The slides and box

With the great expertise and enthusiasm of Ailie Robinson, Mojca Kristan and staff from the Public Health England Malaria Reference Laboratory and LSHTM Diagnostic Parasitology Laboratory, slides were examined under the microscope, and wonderfully, they were still viable and presented some exciting results. The staining techniques for slides – for example the use of gentian violet – has changed considerably since the 19th century, but oocysts and gametocytes were seen, and the results were photographed under the microscope by Cheryl Whitehorn.


Blood slide stained with gentian, showing Plasmodium parasite as gametocyte



Slide of dissected mosquito mid-gut with Plasmodium parasites at oocyst stage











As part of Explore Your Archive week, the resulting images were shown in the Manson foyer, along with an array of rare books on the subject of malaria and a selection of Ross’s archives, including his own early microscopy photographic prints, and his renowned notebook where he meticulously recorded his dissection of the mosquito mid-gut to prove the mosquito as malarial vector.


Archives on display


Illustration from the Rare Books collection

The event was crowded with enthusiastic students and staff: Myriam Willis, Cheryl and Mojca were on hand throughout the event to explain the slides in detail!


Cheryl Whitehorn and Myriam Willis explain the slides


An additional first: a visiting academic, using light from his mobile phone managed to view one of Sir Ronald Ross’s slides through Ross’s very own brass microscope, dating from 1902.


Sir Ronald Ross’s microscope revived!

History in the making indeed!

Email for more information on this project, and for our collections see our catalogue


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