Microscopes – From Wondrous Toy to Essential Tool

Microscopes From Wondrous Toy to Essential ToolMicroscopes have led to countless scientific discoveries that benefit mankind in many ways. Just as astronomers use telescopes to explore the huge outer world of space, microscopes can be used to study what is otherwise inscrutable to the human eye. There are many types of microscopes, but the most popular one is the optical microscope. In the 16th century, the microscope was considered merely a toy to the wealthy. As science progressed, however, many discoveries were made, such as mankind’s discovery of the cell system that serves as the main function of living organisms. Microscopes have also advanced medicine in countless ways. With microscopes, scientists and doctors could now study the functions of bacteria and the activity of red and white blood cells within the body.

In time, newer forms of microscopes were invented that led to entirely different discoveries. Compound microscopes are illuminated by light, and have glass lenses. These focus mechanically, and can be used to view both living and dead cells. Confocal microscopes work through the means of laser lighting. These microscopes scan a specimen with mirrors, then project the image back onto a computer monitor. A scanning electron microscope uses electrons (as the name suggests) to light an object up. This high magnification microscope can scan a specimen in three dimensions, and return it for viewing in black and white. Stereoscopes also create images in three dimensions. The images created by stereoscopes are not as good of a resolution as with electron microscopes.

X-ray microscopes are fascinating tools. These microscopes also view objects in 3D. They use a charge coupled device to detect the X-ray radiation flowing through a specimen, and then project the image back. Fluorescent microscopes are also very interesting. These work a lot like typical light microscopes but use a special wavelength of light to reveal objects in a different color using light fluorophores. Fluorescent microscopes have a variety of uses, but are most used in biology. Using a fluorescent microscope can illuminate the full functions of cell bodies in motion. These are just a few of the many types of microscopes that are still used today.

Microscopes have been an extraordinarily inventive tool in mankind’s learning process on how the universe works. Cells, salt, bugs, grains of sand and much more can be viewed under the tiny lens of a microscope through means of magnification. Microscopes prove that viewing something up close can be as important as the big picture.

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Hayley Granton is a valued contributor to CosmoBC's TechBlog from Portland, Oregon.

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