What is a microscope and how does it work?

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kipling2448's profile pic

kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As the name suggests, a microscope is a tool for looking at objects that are too small to see with the naked eye – in effect, the objects are microscopic.  Scientists and others use microscopes to view bacteria in drops of water, the intricacy of the internal structure of small animals like insects, and every other item of interest that cannot be viewed absent one of these instruments.  Microscopes vary greatly in size, from small plastic models designed for young children to large and enormously expensive atomic microscopes used in the study of the atom.  Currently, the most powerful microscope in the world is the Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM) at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.  Weighing seven metric tons, the STEHM is used for atomic research.

As there are numerous types of microscopes, so there are numerous ways in which they work.  For purposes of discussion, however, this answer will be limited to the commonly-used compound microscope.  This type of microscope uses two lenses, the ocular, which is part of the eye piece, and the objective, which is the lens near the object being viewed.  A condenser just under the viewing tray – the flat surface upon which rests the thin glass slide upon which rests the object to be viewed.  At the base of the microscope is the light source.  As with a telescope, microscopes utilize light to allow the image to be viewed, and microscopes, as with telescopes, are designed to allow varying degrees of light inside, with knobs on the apparatus to allow the person using the microscope to adjust the amount of light, as well as to adjust the focus.  Most microscopes, excluding the cheap plastic models built for children, have multiple objective lenses for specific degrees of magnification.  Microscopes function by virtue of the users’ manual adjustments to the instrument, involving both choice of optimal objective lens, and distance allowed between ocular and objective lenses. 

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ssandhu05's profile pic

ssandhu05 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

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I microscope is a device used for seeing things that at a microscopic scale, such as cells, small organisms, and bacteria. It works by using a single lens that is magnified so you can see what it is that you need to see, similar to how a magnifying glass works. However, depending on the type of microscope that you are using, you can adjust it you want to increase or decrease the amount of magnification to better suite your needs when trying to see. Microscopes are used in hospitals, research facilities, and in schools.

umairhp's profile pic

umairhp | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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To put it in simple words, a microscope produces a large image of a small object. This is the basic idea behind a microscope and once you understand it, you can easily learn how it really works. A Microscope is very similar to a magnifier, the only difference is that magnifier has much shorter focal length. Microscope uses a series of lenses to provide a very short focal length to produce a high magnification. A microscope is much like a refracting telescope.

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