Introduction to the Compound Microscope: Parts & Uses

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  • 0:03 The Compound Light Microscope
  • 1:50 Parts of the Microscope
  • 4:18 Clarity and Overall Structure
  • 5:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Wright
The compound light microscope is a useful tool in any biology laboratory. In this lesson, you'll be introduced to the parts of a compound microscope, as well as understand the function of each of those parts.

The Compound Light Microscope

As we get older, our eyes are not able to see things as clearly, especially things that are small. We may get a magnifying glass in order to help us read and see small objects, and this helps because magnification makes the object appear bigger so we see it more clearly.

A microscope does the same thing, but for very, very small objects. The most common type of microscope you'll use in your biology labs is a compound light microscope. This microscope has two lenses that bend light so that a specimen is magnified and projected. Having two lenses is very important because this is where the microscope gets its name. To compound something means to add to it - like compound interest, or a chemical compound, which is a sum of multiple parts. The word microscope is also key, because micro means small and scope means view.

You may have noticed the word 'light' in the name of this microscope, and that's also no accident. This type of microscope uses visible light, which is the part of the light spectrum our eyes can see, and passes it through the lenses. The lenses bend the light so that the object you're looking at appears larger than it is. This allows you to see it better.

The resolution, or clarity of an image, is also an important factor when looking through a microscope. A standard compound microscope can magnify objects about 1,000 times, which is pretty good! But above this the image becomes blurry, so even if an image appears larger it may still not be very clear unless the resolution is good.

Compound light microscopes have been around for quite some time now. They were first used in the 17th century. It's no coincidence that during this same time cells were discovered, which led scientists to a great number of other discoveries about microorganisms and cell structure and function.

Parts of the Microscope

Microscopes are very powerful tools indeed, but in order to use one properly, you need a basic understanding of its components. Quite possibly the most important part of the compound light microscope is, well, the light source! Ok, maybe the power switch is the most important part because that is what allows you to have light in the first place. But the light source is definitely next on the list of important parts! It is found at the base of the microscope and you can adjust the brightness of the light by rotating the light source knob.

Moving up from the light source we find the stage. This is directly over the light source and is a flat area that holds your slide or specimen flat. On the stage, we find the aperture, which is a small hole in the stage that allows light to pass through. Whatever part of your slide or specimen is directly over the aperture is what you'll see when you look through the microscope.

Also on the stage are the stage clips. These are used to hold your slide in place, and they simply clip over the edges of your slide to hold it down. There will be a knob near the stage called the stage control that moves the stage clips so that you can look at different parts of your slide without having to move it by hand.

As we continue to move up from the base of the microscope we find the objective lenses, which are attached to the nosepiece. The objectives are how much the image is magnified, and the number is written on the side of each objective with a number and the letter X. For example, if you see 10X on the side of an objective, this means that the object is magnified 10 times. Most compound microscopes have 3 or 4 objectives, and they will most likely be 4X, 10X, 40X, and 100X. The nosepiece adjusts so that you can turn from one objective to the other, depending on how much magnification you need for your specimen.

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