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Freezing microtome, London, England, 1883-1885

Invented in 1881, this type of freezing microtome used ice and salt to freeze animal and plant specimens to be sliced for microscope slides. Ice and salt were replaced by a removable ether spray in 1883. Freezing hardened and preserved the specimens’ structure quickly. Chemical preservation usually took six weeks but by using ether the process took a matter of seconds. Once frozen, a razor, operated by hand and secured by a tripod, moved across the top of specimen, creating slices. The slices were then mounted, stained and studied under the microscope by histologists. The knife and tubing is missing.

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    Glossary: histology

    The study of the structure of tissues by means of special staining techniques combined with light and electron microscopy.

    Glossary: Valentin knife

    used to cut slices of organs for microscopic examination

    Glossary: freezing microtome

    An instrument in which tissue is frozen using ice salt or ether before being sliced in order to be examined under a microscope.

    Glossary: microtome

    An instrument used to cut thin sections of biological material so that they can be examined under a microscope.

    Glossary: ether

    A volatile liquid (resulting from the action of sulphuric acid upon alcohol) formerly used as an anaesthetic. Ether was usually inhaled.