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The Laboratory Microscope: A Basic Guide

The Laboratory Microscope: A Basic Guide

The laboratory microscope is a critical tool for researchers, scientists, government workers and many more. The laboratory microscope is used to magnify specimens that are too small to be seen by the naked eye including microorganism, viruses and much more.

The need to amplify images so that humans can see more than their eyes allow has been around for centuries. The first known laboratory microscope was designed in the Netherlands in 1590. The instrument was dubbed the microscope in 1625. By the second half of the 17th century, the rise of modern light microscopes had begun and was being used regularly in research labs in Italy, Holland and England.

There are two main types of microscopes: light and electron. The light microscopes have been around the longest and as their name implies, use light to create the image of a specimen which is amplified be the lens of the microscope. Light microscopes can be subcategorized into bright field, dark field, phase contrast and fluorescence microscopes. Fluorescent microscopes are one of the more recent inventions in the world of light microscopes and are used to study DNA among many other specimens.

Although light microscopes were successfully used for many centuries and continued to be used today, in the early 1900s it became apparent that a more powerful laboratory microscope would be required. This realization brought about the invention of the electron microscope which uses electrons rather than light to create an image of the specimen being viewed. Much of the credit for the development of the electron microscope is given to Ernst Ruska and then later the scanning electron microscope was invented by Max Knoll. Electron microscopes have the ability to magnify an image to a greater degree than a light microscope.

There are three major subcategories for electron microscopes which include scanning electron, transmission electron and scanning tunneling microscopes. Scanning electron microscopes are often used for spectroscopy and scanning tunneling microscopes are powerful enough to view surfaces at an atomic level.

There are many parts to a microscope but these parts can be divided into four categories: the light system, lens system, focusing system and support system. The support system includes the arm, base and stage parts of the microscope. The light of electron system is the part of the microscope which creates the image of the microscope while the lens system magnifies the image for the human eye. Lastly, the focusing system adjusts the lenses to be nearer or further from the specimen and brings the specimen into focus.  

Laboratory microscopes require special care. It is important to ensure that the microscope is never dropped because this could break the lens. Additionally it is important to clean the microscope regularly to ensure it can work to its full potential. There are many types of microscopes available on the market and it requires proper research to ensure the correct style is selected for the needs of a particular research project.

Laboratory microscopes have led to many discoveries and inventions in many fields and are a necessary instrument in labs and working environments around the world.

Photo courtesy of windy_.

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