The Best College Microscope: What to Look For and How to Use It

The Best College Microscope: What to Look For and How to Use It


Basic microscope use is quite simple: toss down a specimen and peer through the eye holes! But mastering a microscope is an essential tool for every good scientist. Luckily, microscopes are becoming more digitized and advanced. It’s easy to learn basic microscope use and master microscopic research and observation. In this post, we’ll talk about some great lab microscopes you might encounter and how to use a microscope.

Looking for a unique graduation gift for a college student or high school senior? Consider a Scopes gift card, which they can put toward the purchase of their perfect microscope!

How to Use a Microscope

Step By Step Basic Microscope Use

First, turn the nosepiece to click the objective lens into position which allows you to look through the microscope. After preparing your specimen with the covering glass, you should clip the slide onto the stage. Now you can look through the objective lens and turn the main focus knob to move the objective lens down. You should move this lens down as far as you can without making contact with the glass slide.

Next, look through the eyepiece on the microscope and change the light source to increase the light as much as possible. Straight compound microscopes require you to look over the top of the device, directly down at the specimen below. Other compound microscopes usually angle the eyepieces more comfortably in your direction. You’re aiming for a high amount of contrast between the slide and the stage. Turn the coarse knob to adjust the objective lens until the image becomes clear. Sometimes the stage on the microscope can be moved as well, so you can also position the lens and then move the slide if this is easier.

The stage will also be able to move horizontally, so once it is in focus, you can move the stage around to bring the image into the center. You should now have a clear, centered specimen for observation.


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Why is My Microscope Image Blurry?

If the image that you’re viewing seems blurry or out of focus, there are a couple possible errors that have occurred. The most common error is a lack of proper focus. Try adjusting the reticle and the distance between the optics and the film. If this doesn’t work, you can troubleshoot in other areas. There may be vibration on the microscope stand. It’s possible that the microscope is operating on low power.

If you’re having persistent trouble adjusting the microscope image, you may need to invest in a high-eyepoint eyepiece which can overcome bad eyesight. Many scientists who have glasses struggle to line up microscopic images while not wearing glasses.

If you struggle to bring the image into focus because the contrast is bad, this might mean that your aperture diaphragm is too wide. If this happens, you’ll get lens flare and the contrast of the image will be limited.

Microscope Specs

When you’re purchasing a college microscope there are a few basic elements you should look for to get an easy, stress-free viewing experience. You should look for a microscope that has a wider field-eyepiece, which is often easier to look through than other kinds of eyepieces. 

While older microscopes used mirrors to amplify light, modern microscopes simply use LED lights. Older microscope models would use tungsten, Halogen, and fluorescent lighting solutions. But these models have dropped in favor for the more sleek, low power and long-lasting LED models. Tungsten could burn out quickly, but LED microscopes should last all four years. Additionally, many newer LED models are rechargeable and cordless, allowing for maximum mobility without plugging into a power source. Microscope cords are a great way to trip over a microscope and knock it down, especially in college when you’re moving it around!

Zoom Magnification

Zoom magnification allows you to quickly view multiples of magnification without moving the main eyepiece. It magnifies the slice of the specimen you’re currently looking at so that you can get a better visual, but it also makes it easy to snap the whole specimen back into focus by undoing the magnification.

How Powerful Does My Microscope Need to Be?

High school and elementary school microscopes sometimes magnify up to 1000x, while college microscopes sometimes cap at 2500x. For some context, check out this table of magnification:

  • At 40x, you can focus on the specimen and center into it. You might be able to see some larger cells but you definitely won’t be able to see the more intricate details that lie just below the surface.
  • At 100x, bacteria become visible as tiny little dots. You can see the details of the specimen now, but you aren’t so far zoomed in that you lose the whole picture.
  • At 400x, you can begin looking inside cells to see what’s going on. If you have sliced cell divisions ahead of time you might be able to see individual pieces of cells. And you can also see beyond the dots of bacteria to see what shapes they are.
  • At 1000x, you are so far down that you’ll need a really stable viewing system and immersion oil to get any clear resolution. Anything at or beyond 1000x requires professional preparation to see your specimen clearly.

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Best Lab Microscope

If you’re taking a science GE, you may not have to invest in your own microscope. But microscopes are becoming increasingly affordable, and students majoring in science often decide to invest in their own college microscope. Basic microscope use can help you do assignments better and save time, so having a machine that you’re familiar with can really help.

Digital stereo microscopes use WiFi or USB connections to allow you to display the magnified image on screens. You can also use the digital connections to take pictures and collect data, which makes professional-grade lab work even easier. The three microscopes that we recommend for college work are all digital microscopes. You’ll save tons of time on your labs by taking pictures which can be used for more accurate reporting.

ITI-350L LCD USB Digital Microscope

The ITI-350L LCD uses a USB digital connection to connect to your computer to examine specimens. It’s great for general use, and includes a 3.5 inch LCD screen with an LCD lighting source. Magnification goes to 300x on its own, and can be up to 1200x with digital magnification boosting. It’s powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, making it easy to transport and use on the go.

ITI-1080W WIFI Digital Microscope

The ITI-1080W has WiFi connectivity which allows you to easily hook it up to an iOS, Android, or Windows operating system to display the digital zoom on the screen. With zooms from 10x to 230x, you can quickly get an overview of what is going on with your cells and bacteria. Observe plants, insects, skin, circuit boards, and lots of other kinds of objects.

ITI 2020MD/BD Digital Microscope

This digital microscope can connect to your computer and show the digital microscopic display. It uses achromatic objective lenses, from 4x to 100x, enough view to see the specimen fairly clearly. It’s digital focusing system allows you to move with coaxial coarse and fine adjustments. The ITI 2020MD/BD is ideal for basic college and lab work.

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