What kind of microscope did the world really need that it didn’t already have? What kind of scope would do the most good? And what kind of microscope could an individual make on his own without backing, without equipment and without one physics class?
For years Dennis witnessed the selling of plastic toy microscopes to children who needed something else entirely. They did not need a scaled down plastic facsimile of a real microscope. What they needed was an instrument designed for kids. What was required was something they could use on their own without supervision to view whatever caught their eye. Parents, teachers and children have always been afraid of microscopes and had rarely seen a quality image. Most importantly, it had to work without cords, mirrors, batteries or any conventional light source. This would be the real prize to reach for – no light source and no breakable parts. The ultimate tool would have only one moving part and need only room light without adjustment on clear or opaque objects.
A scope for children must be an instrument grade machine that is designed specifically for young eyes, hands and minds. It must be tougher and simpler that anything previously made. It must work for everyone, even those with limitations and it must work on everything.
His first prototype, made in an Orlando garage, was made from a brass shower curtain rod and a wooden cutting board that he had made years before. The first Brock scope had two moving parts and was field tested at the Orlando Science Center. The second one had only one moving part (Model 50) and was called “the world’s finest child’s microscope” by its exhibit director. The addition of the Lumarod Illuminator (Model 60), a couple of years later enabled this new tool for children to take its leadership role in the field. A Parent’s Choice Award was given to the Brock even before the Lumarod came about.
The most recent addition to the Brock was the Model 70 – a fine adjustment ramp allowing the Brock to be focused smoothly at higher powers. This meant the Magiscope could be easily focused at 400x using the 40x objective and the 10x eye piece.
It would be difficult to measure the overall effect that the Magiscope has had on children and science for the last twenty years. Brock’s design and even its original color (red) have given young children something they have never had before – a microscope that empowered them. Here was an instrument designed for them, not a toy. For once, the microscope was a simple and effective tool that could be used by anyone on anything inside or out. At last, there was an instrument that could be used without concern about electrical outlets, mirrors or batteries. Finally, someone had built something strong enough for kids. All other scopes exclude accidents, misuse or abuse from their warranties – not the Brock. This alone would be revolutionary in this field.
What you have now is simple perfection and it has earned a reputation for outstanding value that has never been more evident that today. After 20 years of being number one in children’s microscopes and with over 120,000 in the field working every day, the Brock continues to provide value and integrity which equals success for the student, the teacher and the parents.
It’s impossible to tell the story of the Magiscope’s creation without first talking about the man whose name has become synonymous “the world’s finest child’s microscope”. There are a very small percentage of people in this world who succeed in spite of tremendous odds against them. Dennis Brock is one of them.
Raised in poverty in a severely dysfunctional family, Dennis was often in trouble at school. Never fitting in was a common reality for him and this persistent isolation led to the love for reading and the knowledge one could obtain from books. There was no money for encyclopedia (the computer of the day), getting food was hard enough. Dennis discovered that he wanted to learn everything he could from books even if he had to beg, borrow or steal. He created his own library in cardboard boxes and the damp basement of a Philadelphia row house. His interest covered all phases of science, wood crafting, wild plants, history, aviation, animals and medicine. Many of his books were borrowed from the Free Library of Philadelphia. Young Dennis would borrow the books and find it impossible to return them (after all it was called the “Free Library”).
At age 14, Dennis had saved enough money to buy a cheap banjo for $150 at 8th Street Music in Philly. He also bought Pete Seeger’s book How to Play the Five String Banjo and taught himself how to play. His ability to learn skills from books repeated itself many times throughout his lifetime. His troubled home life and increasing awareness that he wasn’t like everyone else eventually got him kicked out of high school at age 16. He was the president of his class at the time in hoping to become a veterinarian one day. His official crime for being expelled was for being a truant (he used to take Monday’s off as teachers would say). Basically, he hated school. He could not tolerate some of the teachers that were merely occupying space; he could not ignore the bullying and the other nasty games that children played. Somehow through no fault of his own, he had become an adult before his time. His best teachers were well behind him in elementary school and it had been all down hill from there. He had his best teacher in sixth grade who allowed him to conduct his own science experiments before the class. Her name was Mrs.Voron – he never knew her first name. As soon as he legally could, he left school. He had learned how to finish wood from reading books and put an ad in the local paper for furniture refinishing. Sometimes when things look pretty bleak it may be that opportunity is about to knock at your door. In 1974, at age 24, Dennis was about to join the Musician’s Union in Philadelphia and make a real attempt at becoming a professional musician. However, reality was demanding a more immediate solution to his economic situation. He had to get a real job and he wasn’t making much fixing furniture on his own. He had to suspend his desire to be self employed.
The name Carl Zeiss has always been the top name in optics particularly in microscopes. Philly had five medical schools and enough research labs to keep an instrument repair man busy for centuries. There was only one Zeiss dealer in the area at the time. It was owned by an eccentric Hungarian who ran it out of his mansion. Just at that time, Zeiss demanded that the Philadelphia Zeiss dealer get a repairman. Fate led Dennis to their tiny ad in the paper. Over a dozen applicants were screened and Dennis got the job and a chance to work for practically nothing to repair the most sophisticated microscopes on the planet with little or no training.
Being a quick study and winning over older people in the field led to Dennis’ learning everything he could about every make and model of microscope there was. He worked on metalagraphs, photomicroscopes, forensic microscopes, industrial and surgical microscopes – anything with an eyepiece and objective. Microscopes came from many countries back then. Besides Germany, they came from England, Italy, Austria and even Polish microscopes – Dennis worked on all of them.
This eventually led to the modification of existing stands and stages for specialized applications. He also attended several factory training seminars and workshops on subjects like polarized light, fluorescence and differential interference contrast. No one ever suspected that he left school at 16.
It was at this point in his life that he decided to make his own microscope and go back to taking the risk of being self employed. He always wanted to be an inventor and this was his time. He was repairing and selling microscopes in Orlando, Florida at the time.
Many generations of teachers have found teaching microscopy difficult at best. This multi-generational aversion to microscopes has left its mark. The fact is that many teachers themselves have barely seen a good image through the microscope. All previous designs have provided nothing but extreme frustration for teachers and students alike. Their scopes were either too delicate or too complex to use. Every school out there has a microscope graveyard which attests to previous failures. Teachers wound up studying the parts of a microscope rather than using them to see things. All this changed with the Brock Magiscope. This tool didn’t need studying. It needed to be in the hands of children with their marvelous and unspoiled sense of wonder.
The Magiscope has evolved to become a study in form and function. We are very pleased that people see its value more now than ever. The Magiscope empowers all who use it.
A few years ago we heard of a mother’s whose daughter had started with a Magiscope when she was just seven. And then many years later, she had blossomed into a biologist. This was just one of many. The Magiscope has done much to change the lack of proper science education for girls in particular. Throughout the generations, women were discouraged from taking part in science careers. The Magiscope helps put an end to that.
To those of you who care to buy American, realize how many American workers and businesses the Magiscope supports. You are helping many of us. Even our field case is made here in California to Mr. Brock’s specs. Of course it’s cheaper to make it off shore – many things are. We choose to make everything we can here in the USA. It’s about quality and consistency with the Brock and that can’t be compromised. If someone else somewhere else is making it, quality control is suspect.
The Brock is the only American microscope and has been supporting American workers for an entire generation and without any consideration from our government. Hopefully, that will change and our leaders and their laws will do something for small “cottage industries” like us. We need every manufacturer we can get in this country no matter how small.
At Brock we will continue to make them here in the USA and continue to produce what many consider the “world’s finest child’s microscope”.