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  • Sara Thompson

How Microscopes Work

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Image credit: Les Chatfield, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Microscopes are a staple piece of equipment in many science laboratories. They allow us to see small objects up close, even microscopic things like cells and bacteria. Simple microscopes have been around since the 13th century. More complex microscopes began to appear in the 1620s. No one is certain who invented these microscopes as there are various claims. Either way, the ability to view objects up close has helped us to understand our world much more than by magnifying glasses or the naked eye alone.

There are two main varieties of microscope, simple and compound microscope, each have their own variations, but they will all have similar traits in their respective groups. Simple microscopes use either a single, powerful lens or group of lenses to magnify an object. This method is similar to magnifying glasses and telescopes. A compound microscope is a little more complex, but still uses lenses to magnify objects. A compound microscope uses multiple lenses in a specific orientation to achieve magnification. One lens is close to the object and is used to fucus it, another lens, or group of lenses, placed closer to the eye enlarges the focused image to the viewer. The use of multiple lenses in different orientations has allowed us to achieve higher magnification and see objects beyond the capabilities of the naked human eye.

No matter the variety of microscopes, their design is similar. All have an eyepiece, which is what you look through. This connects to a revolving nose piece, which holds different lenses for different magnification levels. A level piece, called the stage, is where objects are placed and is immediately below the lenses. Below the stage are light sources which shine through a small hole in the stage to illuminate the object while viewing. Knobs found on the side of microscopes are used for focusing objects while being viewed.

Microscopes are a great way to see small details in large objects and are powerful enough to view the unknown microscopic world. Come to Explorit and use some microscopes in our exhibit “Our WILD World”. Admission is $5 per person, free for Explorit Members and those aged 2 and under.

Explorit's coming events:

• Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:

• A Membership to Explorit grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. To purchase or for more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

• Now booking school programs for the newest school year. For more information, please visit To reserve call (530) 756-0191.


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