Have you ever wondered how a microscope works? We explain all in today’s guide. We cover the functions, parts, uses, history and more!
Microscopes enable us to observe things that we cannot see with our naked eyes. Since the invention of the modern microscope – of which there are several types – there have been a number of further scientific developments that wouldn’t have been possible without it.
The main uses for a microscope are in science, where it enables us to take a closer look at cell structures.
In this article, we will take a look at the origins and invention of the microscope, how it works and the name of its parts, as well as the scientific uses for this miraculous invention. Read on!
How Does a Microscope Work?
You’ve heard of a microscope and you know what it’s used for, but do you know how it actually works? Here are the basics.
Microscopes are designed to reveal things at close range. At its most basic level, a microscope is a single convex lens – like a magnifying glass that you might use for reading the small print. A simple magnifying glass can make objects look 10 to 20 times bigger than they really are.
By combining multiple lenses, we can get much greater magnification. Every microscope functions in fundamentally the same way: it comprises a tube with a series of convex lenses inside.
A standard compound microscope contains two lenses: an objective and an eyepiece. After light shines on the object, it is then reflected by a mirror into the lenses, which causes the light rays from the object to become magnified. Read on to learn more about microscopes.
A Brief History of Microscopes
The earliest versions of microscope technology are believed to have been used by the Ancient Greeks, with items that look remarkably like lenses surviving from as far back as 4000 years ago.
Lenses were used in eyeglasses in the subsequent centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1600s that what we now recognize as a microscope came into being.
Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to ever see living cells. He experimented by placing two lenses inside a tube – a simple version of what would become the groundbreaking microscope.
Recommended: Take a look at our interesting guide to famous microscope discoveries.
A compound microscope is the name we give to the modern idea of a microscope – one with an eyepiece to view the image and an objective lens near the observed object. The earliest version of this type of microscope is believed to have been made in 1630.
There have been many inventors credited with inventing the microscope, including Galileo himself, but its creator is original actually unknown. In the 1660s and 70s, microscopes began being used as a serious tool for scientific discovery.
The 19th Century saw massive strides being taken in the world of microscopy, with the invention of many different types of microscope, including the CAT scanner and the electron microscope.
You can read more about the history of the microscope in this article.
Microscope Parts and Functions
Let’s take a closer look at all the different parts of a microscope, and how they all work together. In almost every microscope, these are the main parts:
- Eyepiece: this is located at the top of the microscope and enables you to observe the object. The eyepiece has the capacity to magnify by 10 or 15 times.
- Body Tube: this tube connects the eyepiece to the lenses.
- Turret: this revolving section of the microscope allows for multiple objective lenses to be used, rotating above the object. This allows you to view the object at different magnifications.
- Objective lenses: there are normally 3 or 4 objective lenses, Their magnifying power ranges from 10 to 100x.
- Coarse & fine knobs: these are used to adjust the focus on the microscope. These days, these knobs tend to be mounted on the same section of the device.
- Stage: this is where the specimen (the thing you want to examine with the microscope) is placed for observation. This can be equipped with mechanics to enable careful, more delicate movement and observation of the specimen.
- Stage clips: if a mechanical stage is not used, stage clips can be used to hold the specimen in place.
- Aperture: the hole through which light shines, enabling you to see the specimen.
- Illuminator: as the name suggests, this is the light that illuminates the specimen and creates the light rays for magnification.
- Condenser: this collects the light given off by the illuminator and focuses it on the specimen.
- Iris diaphragm: helps control the intensity and focus of light on the specimen.
- Condenser focus knob: moves the condenser up and down and gives greater control of the specimen’s image.
So, there you have a concise yet comprehensive overview of the different parts of a microscope and their functions.
Recommended Reading: Don’t miss our guide to the top microscopes for young students and kids.
Uses of a Microscope
The microscope has several important uses within science and development. Here are just a few of the things that are made possible by microscopes:
- Analyzing tissue samples: microscopes allow us to take a closer look at tissue samples within the medical field. This means we can see what’s going on in our bodies at a cellular level, helping to identify diseases such as cancer early on.
- Forensics: microscopes are a vital tool in forensic analysis, helping to solve crimes by identifying factors such as bullet types or place of death from finding trace materials.
- Monitoring ecosystems: it’s possible to judge the health of ecosystems and develop ideas for how to protect them and learn from with the help of a microscope.
- Atoms: we can study atomic structures with the help of microscopes, which helps us learn more about our universe and the origins of life.
The earth is full of an endless array of things, just waiting to be discovered. Although something may be invisible to the naked eye doesn’t mean it isn’t there: the microscope reveals the reality that we can only really scratch the surface of our complex world.
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