Most people are familiar with the basic operation of the microscope, but the steps to using a microscope might not be so readily apparent—especially if the last time you used one was back in high school. Microscopes aren’t hard to use but they can be frustrating to try and figure out on your own.
A lot of how-tos you find online are written in jargon and hard to understand, and the instruction manuals that come with microscopes aren’t always the most comprehensive, either. Using a microscope essentially involves [#] steps:
1) Turn the microscope on to the lowest magnification.
Make sure the scope is plugged in or has sufficient battery and that the lights are functional. If you’re using a compound microscope, setting it to the lowest-power lens is especially important, since this gives you more space to work with on the stage.
2) Place your sample on the stage.
If you’re using a compound microscope, the sample will be on a prepared slide, which you’ll secure in place with the clips once you have it in position. With stereo and digital microscopes, the kind of sample you use can be more varied, but make sure it’s secure and contained on the stage before moving forward. Depending on the style of microscope you’re using, you may get the option of adjusting the height of the stage, as well. Make sure that the sample isn’t coming into contact with the lens, especially if you’re using a compound microscope, as this can damage both the sample and the scope.
3) Adjust the focus and lighting.
You want to be able to see the sample clearly at the lowest magnification level before you start cranking it up higher. Look through the eyepiece. If you don’t see your sample at all, move it on the stage until you do. If it’s blurry, turn the focus knob (usually on the side of the microscope) until it’s in sharper focus. Save any lighting adjustments for last. With stereo microscopes, may also need to adjust the width of the eyepieces. Look through both; if you see two pictures of the sample, turn the adjustment knob until they merge into one.
4) Repeat adjustments each time you change magnification.
If you only want to use the lowest magnification setting, you can stop at step 3. If you want to view your samples in more detail, however, you’ll likely need to readjust each time you change the magnification. Making gradual increases in the magnification will make it easier to focus in on the exact area you’re looking for. You will also likely need to re-adjust the focus every time you move the sample on the stage, as well.
Digital, stereo, or compound—what’s the difference?
In terms of operation, digital microscopes will be the simplest for most users to operate. Most digital microscopes use a style of magnification more similar to the zoom on a digital camera than the system of optical lenses in a stereo or compound microscope. Since they also often lack traditional eyepieces, opting instead for a viewscreen, you’ll have to do less adjustment overall when you’re using them.
Compound microscopes, conversely, are the most difficult to use. Because there is a larger between lens magnification levels, you’ll need to make more adjustments each time you switch them. It can also be more difficult to zero in on specific areas of your sample since minute adjustments can make a big difference through the lens.
Even compound microscopes aren’t that hard to use, though, if you know the right steps to follow. Using small, delicate adjustments, especially at higher magnification levels, will serve you well as you’re learning to navigate your new equipment.