Microscopes are useful for viewing objects that are too small to see clearly without magnification. This exercise is designed to familiarize students with the use of a compound light microscope and a binocular dissecting microscope.

Before using the microscope, read the document on microscope care using the link below.


Compound Light Microscope

The compound light microscope uses two sets of lenses to magnify the object. Illumination is provided by a light source on the base of the microscope. The magnification typically ranges from approximately  40 X to 1,000 X. They can be used with objects that range in size from about 100 nm to 2 mm. 

Parts of the Light Microscope

The stage is a platform that holds the slide containing the specimen to be viewed. A mechanical stage (see the photographs below) has a mechanism for moving the slide.

A light microscope must have a light source. This is usually a light bulb located beneath the stage.

An adjustable diaphragm located beneath the stage is used to regulate the amount of light that passes through.

A condenser contains two sets of lenses that concentrate light. It is located directly underneath the stage. Light from the light source passes through the diaphragm and condenser before continuing up through the specimen to be viewed. 

The body tube contains an ocular lens (eyepiece) and a nosepiece with several objective lenses. Each objective lens is used for a different magnification and is moved into place by rotating the nosepiece. The image is brought into focus by adjusting the coarse and fine focus knobs.

Click on the photographs to view enlargements.

After viewing, press the "Back" key to return here.


Binocular microscopes (below) have two eyepieces; monocular microscopes (above) have one. The distance between the two ocular lenses of a binocular microscope can be adjusted to fit the distance between your eyes.

Other optical devices such as binocular telescopes and field glasses also have two ocular lenses that adjust in a manner similar to the microscope. Binocular lenses can be adjusted individually, making it unnecessary for many people to need their glasses when using them. If you wear glasses and are unfamiliar with adjusting binocular lenses to correct for your own eyes, see the section titled "Adjusting the Ocular Lenses" below.

Click on the photographs to view enlargements.


Compound light microscopes contain two lens systems, an objective and an ocular. The total magnification of an image is calculated by multiplying the magnification of the ocular by the magnification of the objective. The microscopes we will use each have a 10X ocular lens and four different objective lenses listed in the table below.

ObjectiveMagnification Total Magnification 
Scanning4 X40 X
Low Power10 X100 X
High Power40 X or 43 X400 X or 430 X
Oil Immersion 100 X1000 X

Light bends when it passes from glass to air or from air to glass because air and glass have different refractive indices. The bending of light as it passes through the glass slide to the air and then to the glass lens decreases the resolving power. At high magnification (1000X) it can prevent a clear image from being viewed. This decrease in resolution can be prevented by putting immersion oil between the slide and the lens because immersion has the same refractive index as glass. 

The condenser also increases the resolving power of the microscope. When using the oil-immersion lens, the condenser (located beneath the stage) should be raised to a position very close to the stage for maximum resolution.

Using the Microscope

The link below may be helpful before using the microscope.


CAUTION - Never use cloth or paper products (paper towels, tissue paper, etc.) to clean the lenses. They will scratch the coating and decrease the resolving power of the lens. Use only lens paper.

Switch the microscope to the lowest magnification or raise the objectives from the stage before inserting a slide. This will prevent the objective lens from being accidentally scratched by the slide.

Place the slide to be viewed on the stage and center the specimen over the opening.

Begin with either the scanning lens or the low power objective lens.

Raise the stage (or lower the lens) all the way so that the slide is as close as possible to the objective lens.

Use the coarse adjustment know to slowly raise the lens from the stage while viewing the image. Fine focusing is not needed when using the lowest magnification (scanning or 4X objective). If you are using any of the other objectives, it will be necessary to use the fine focus after using the coarse focus.

Adjust the condenser so that a sharp focus is produced. This step is important at the highest magnification (oil immersion or 1000X).

Adjust the iris diaphragm. This will need readjustment after changing to a different magnification.

To Increase the Magnification

The microscopes are parfocal, meaning that after you adjust the focus, the image will remain approximately in focus if you change the magnification.

Center the object before switching to a higher power objective. This will help you find the object after switching the objective.

Switch to the next highest power. It will be necessary to center the image again. The image should be approximately in focus but it will be necessary to use the fine focus. The coarse focus should not be needed after switching objectives. 

Adjust the diaphragm.

This procedure is repeated each time you switch to a higher magnification.

Oil Immersion

The 100 X objective (1,000X total magnification) requires that a drop of immersion oil be placed between the slide and the lens. We will not use this objective but students are welcome to try the lens if they would like. The procedure is given below.

After focusing the specimen under high power (400X or 430X, see above), rotate the high power objective out of the way and place a drop of immersion oil on the slide. Rotate the oil immersion objective into place so that it touches the oil.

Adjust the fine focus, condenser, and iris diaphragm as previously described.

After viewing with oil, the lens must be cleaned with fluid designated for this purpose. Remember, use lens paper only. Never use cloth, paper towels, or other paper products on coated optics.

Laboratory Exercise - Practice Using the Microscope

1) Can you tell which thread is above the other?

View the threads under high power (400X or 430X). Use the fine focus to focus to determine the order of the threads from top to bottom. As you rotate the fine focus, different strands will go out of focus while others will become more sharply focused. This procedure will therefore enable you to determine the order of the threads.

2) Are all of the threads in focus at the same time? 

3) What is the order (from top to bottom)?

"Depth of field" refers to the thickness of the plane of focus. With a large depth of field, all of the threads can be in focused at the same time. With a smaller or narrower depth of field, only one thread or a part of one thread can be focused, everything else will be out of focus. In order to view the other threads, you must focus downward to view the ones underneath and upward to view the ones that are above. 

4a) What happens to the depth of field when you increase to a higher magnification (increases, decreases, or remains the same)? 
4b) Explain how the slide with threads could be used to answer the question above.

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5) What way did the image move when the slide was moved to the left?

6) How does the orientation of the image compare to the image on the slide?

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7) Draw the cell. Label the cilia and the oral groove.

Below: Paramecium.

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Making Wet Mounts

Wet mounts are useful for viewing living biological material.

To make a wet mount, place the specimen on a slide and then add a drop of water or stain. Stain is often used to make the specimen more visible.

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Place a cover slip at an angle so that it touches the drop. Slowly lower the raised end of the cover slip. The diagram below shows that as the cover slip is lowered, the drop of liquid moves to the right. 

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Cheek Cells

1) Draw a cell under high power.

Below: Cheek cells 100X and 400X.

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Onion Cells

2) Draw several onion cells as they appear under high power.

Below: Onion cells.

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Adjusting the Ocular Lenses

Binocular microscopes and stereomicroscopes have one ocular lens that is adjustable (see photograph below). This enables you to adjust the viewing for your eyes so that you do not need to wear your glasses. Remove your glasses before doing the procedure below.

To adjust these lenses, first, cover the adjustable lens (or your eye) so that you cannot see the image through it. Next, focus the microscope the way you normally would so that a sharp image is produced through the ocular lens. Cover this lens (or eye) and view the image through the other (adjustable) ocular. Turn the ocular lens but not the focus knob and adjust so that the image is sharp.

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