Numerical aperture (abbreviated as ‘NA’) is an important consideration when trying to distinguish detail in a specimen viewed down the microscope. NA is a number without units and is related to the angles of light which are collected by a lens. In calculating NA (see below), the refractive index of a medium is also taken into account and by matching the refractive index of a slide or cell culture container with an immersion medium, then more of the detail of a specimen will be resolved. The way in which light behaves when travelling from one medium to another is also related to NA (and termed ‘refraction’). This article also covers a brief history of refraction and how this concept is a limiting factor in achieving high NA.