AGENCY FOR TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND DISEASE REGISTRY

Optical microscope

The optical microscope, often referred to as the light microscope, is a type of microscope that commonly uses visible light and a system of lenses to magnify 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. Often used in the classroom and at home unlike the electron microscope which is used for closer viewing.

There are two basic types of optical microscopes: simple microscopes and compound microscopes. A simple microscope uses the optical power of single lens or group of lenses for magnification. A compound microscope uses a system of lenses (one set enlarging the image produced by another) to achieve much higher magnification of an object. The vast majority of modern research microscopes are compound microscopes while some cheaper commercial digital microscopes are simple single lens microscopes. Compound microscopes can be further divided into a variety of other types of microscopes which differ in their optical configurations, cost, and intended purposes.

Digital microscopy with very low light levels to avoid damage to vulnerable biological samples is available using sensitive photon-counting digital cameras. It has been demonstrated that a light source providing pairs of entangled photons may minimize the risk of damage to the most light-sensitive samples. In this application of ghost imaging to photon-sparse microscopy, the sample is illuminated with infrared photons, each of which is spatially correlated with an entangled partner in the visible band for efficient imaging by a photon-counting camera.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (16321724) is credited with bringing the microscope to the attention of biologists, even though simple magnifying lenses were already being produced in the 16th century. Van Leeuwenhoek's home-made microscopes were simple microscopes, with a single very small, yet strong lens. They were awkward in use, but enabled van Leeuwenhoek to see detailed images. It took about 150 years of optical development before the compound microscope was able to provide the same quality image as van Leeuwenhoek's simple microscopes, due to difficulties in configuring multiple lenses. In the 1850s John Leonard Riddell, Professor of Chemistry at Tulane University, invented the first practical binocular microscope while carrying out one of the earliest and most extensive American microscopic investigations of cholera.

Modern biological microscopy depends heavily on the development of fluorescent probes for specific structures within a cell. In contrast to normal transilluminated light microscopy, in fluorescence microscopy the sample is illuminated through the objective lens with a narrow set of wavelengths of light. This light interacts with fluorophores in the sample which then emit light of a longer wavelength. It is this emitted light which makes up the image.

Focusing starts at lower magnification in order to center the specimen by the user on the stage. Moving to a higher magnification requires the stage to be moved higher vertically for re-focus at the higher magnification and may also require slight horizontal specimen position adjustment. Horizontal specimen position adjustments are the reason for having a mechanical stage.

In industrial use, binocular microscopes are common. Aside from applications needing true depth perception, the use of dual eyepieces reduces eye strain associated with long workdays at a microscopy station. In certain applications, long-working-distance or long-focus microscopes are beneficial. An item may need to be examined behind a window, or industrial subjects may be a hazard to the objective. Such optics resemble telescopes with close-focus capabilities.