Optical microscope

The optical microscope, also referred to as a light microscope, is a type of microscope that commonly uses visible light and a system of lenses to generate magnified images of small objects. Optical microscopes are the oldest design of microscope and were possibly invented in their present compound form in the 17th century. Basic optical microscopes can be very simple, although many complex designs aim to improve resolution and sample contrast.

Scientists use optical microscopes to examine growing cells

The object is placed on a stage and may be directly viewed through one or two eyepieces on the microscope. In high-power microscopes, both eyepieces typically show the same image, but with a stereo microscope, slightly different images are used to create a 3-D effect. A camera is typically used to capture the image (micrograph).

The sample can be lit in a variety of ways. Transparent objects can be lit from below and solid objects can be lit with light coming through (bright field) or around (dark field) the objective lens. Polarised light may be used to determine crystal orientation of metallic objects. Phase-contrast imaging can be used to increase image contrast by highlighting small details of differing refractive index.

A range of objective lenses with different magnification are usually provided mounted on a turret, allowing them to be rotated into place and providing an ability to zoom-in. The maximum magnification power of optical microscopes is typically limited to around 1000x because of the limited resolving power of visible light. While larger magnifications are possible no additional details of the object are resolved.

Alternatives to optical microscopy which do not use visible light include scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy and scanning probe microscopy and as a result, can achieve much greater magnifications.


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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Optical microscope, and is written by contributors. Text is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 International License; additional terms may apply. Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.