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Different Types of Microscopes

Updated on December 30, 2012
18th Century Microscopes
18th Century Microscopes | Source

Microscopes are used in many industries from medicine to metallurgy, this article will explore the types of microscopes out there and their uses. Although there may have been others before the time in the Netherlands during the late 16th century two glasses lens makers stumbled upon the realization that when lining up several lenses it was possible to see things many times their size. they also began seeing things they could not explain. But it wasn't until 1625 that a German scholar Giovanni Faber gave the microscope it's name. From these humble beginnings came the first of many microscope designs. Today there are a few major types of microscope namely the optical microscope, the electron microscope and the scanner Probe microscope.

Compound microscope with a CCD video camera attached
Compound microscope with a CCD video camera attached | Source

Optical Microscope

The optical microscope is the type most widely used. These microscopes can be simple single lens devices that can see little more than a magnifying glass or with those known as compound microscopes be used to see magnifications of as much as 2000x with good detail. Where the single lens microscope may rely on on the light within a room the compound microscope is built with an artificial light source. When a specimen is is placed on the stage of the microscope the light source can be adjusted to use best lighting to view. dependent upon what the microscopes use is the specimen may be contained in a slide with something organic, a container for larger view or for metallurgy samples.

Additional components that can be added to the compound microscope are a CCD camera which attaches to the top of the microscope. These cameras will have the ability to see what you would normally be seeing through the eye pieces. Thus the eye pieces are not always needed. When the camera is attached (often through USB) to a computer and software is used pictures and video can be recorded from your specimens. This is a great advantage especially for those observing organic specimens such as micro-organisms, blood, among others.

A dark field condenser can also be added to the microscope to allow light dispersal and viewing of the specimen in a contrasted state. Some specimens are better seen through dark field microscopy.

Many objective lenses come is 4x, 10x, 40x, and 100x magnifications, when combined with wide field eyepieces of 10x or 20x we are able to view specimens up to 1000x and 2000x. The highest magnification objective lens of 100x will often be referred to as an oil immersion objective. The way this objective lens works is by placing a small drop of oil on the top of the slide that contains you specimen. The objective is gently lowered until it is immersed in the oil. When the oil immersion objective is immersed in the oil it will capture great detail at high magnification from the specimen below. This again is a great advantage when viewing micro-organisms and other organic material.

Electron Microscope
Electron Microscope | Source

Electron Microscope

The electron microscope is a much more complex device that uses an electron beam to allow the user to view objects up to 10 million times magnification. This type of microscope is something often owned by universities, large laboratories or corporations, the complex nature of the device makes it a very expensive piece of equipment. Despite this it is used in many fields, in biology it can be used to identify the structure of very small bacteria and viruses.

Scanning Probe Microscope

The scanning probe microscope is used to view magnify and view the area throughout the specimen all the way through from surface to surface. It's magnification can go all the way to the atomic level.


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    • terrektwo profile image

      Candle Hour 5 years ago from North America

      Lipnancy - microscopes are great :)

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      My brother had the coolest microscope. We used to look at everything through it.

    • terrektwo profile image

      Candle Hour 5 years ago from North America

      WillStarr - It is a great past time, one of my pictures shows the one I bought a few years ago. It has a video camera on top so I can record video of my specimens to my computer. I really enjoy doing that :)

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      One of the best Christmas presents I ever got as a boy was a microscope with four power ranges and and a mirror under the stage. I still like looking through a microscope at a drop of pond water. In fact, after reading this, I may buy one!