The Biological Microscope: what does it actually show you?

Look into the eyepiece of your Biological Microscope and you’ll be immersed in the invisible wonders of the microscopic world.

We often use the biological microscope or compound microscope to view microscopic samples of specimens. But before we delve more into biological microscopes, there are a few other types of microscopes that you need to know about.

We also use Stereo Microscopes, or Dissecting Microscopes, to produce three-dimensional images of larger specimen or objects. Digital Microscopes combine a traditional microscope with a digital camera to allow images to be seen through a screen, as opposed to an eyepiece. Handheld Digital microscopes are as the name suggests, handheld variants of digital microscopes.

There are more complicated types of microscopes, but today we’ll be covering biological microscopes.

An overview of the biological microscope

We use Biological Microscopes to enlarge images to a high magnification. They show minute, microscopic images in great detail by offering a much higher magnification than stereo microscopes, generally between 40x and 1000x.

How do they work?

They enlarge images by allowing a single path of light to pass through a series of lenses, where each lens magnifies the image larger than the previous one. Light is reflected through the lenses to produce an image that is usually reversed and upside down, and it is normally projected from below to pass through the specimen. We call this a trans-illumination light method.

To really understand how a biological microscope works, you’ll need to know what they look like first. Below you’ll find a diagram of a microscope:

Labelled parts of a microscope
“Labeled parts of a microscope.” by Thebiologyprimer licensed under CC0 1.0

You’ll notice that there are two types of lenses – the objective lens (near the stage) and the ocular lenses, or eyepieces. You can calculate the total magnification by multiplying the magnification of the objective lens by the magnification of the eyepiece.

For example:

            40x objective magnification * 10x eyepiece magnification = 400x total magnification

Biological microscopes typically have three to five lenses with magnifications that range between 4x and 100x. You can select each lens by rotating the nosepiece (or turret). When used together with a 10x eyepiece, the total magnification ranges between 40x and 100x.

Where are they used?

If you’ve studied or are studying science in school, university or anywhere else, you’ve probably already used a biological microscope – they are most common in classrooms and other learning environments. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a go with your own microscope at home or with the microscopes on display at our showroom.

What are they used to see?

Biological microscopes generally use a trans-illuminated light method. You would ideally want small, thin specimen presented on a microscope slide. Here are some great products to get your started:

We often stain samples to increase the contrast of the samples and improve visibility through the microscope. You can also use immersion oil to improve the clarity and resolving power of a microscope.

So, what can you actually see with a biological microscope? Almost anything that can fit onto a slide – from different plant and animal specimen, including samples of cotton leaf, pine stem or human hair or blood cells to name a few.

Below, I’ve taken a few images of an ant specimen and a large intestine sample with a Saxon RBT Researcher Biological Microscope at low magnification. I also used a bluetooth-enabled Saxon ScopePix Smartphone Adapter 2s to securely mount an Apple iPhone 11 to the microscope.

The image below shows a longitudinal section of a mammalian tongue at a higher magnification.

These are only a handful of examples of what you can see with a biological microscope.

If you’re new to microscopy:

Optics Central stocks a number of biological microscopes which start at $99.95 for the Celestron 28 Piece Microscope Kit.

We also have some other great microscopes, such as the:

The microscopic world is endless, and the possibilities of what you can actually see are, similarly, endless. So get your hands on a biological microscope and some slides and go on an adventure.

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