microscope: Compound Microscopes

The compound microscope consists essentially of two or more double convex lenses fixed in the two extremities of a hollow cylinder. The lower lens (nearest to the object) is called the objective; the upper lens (nearest to the eye of the observer), the eyepiece. The cylinder is mounted upright on a screw device, which permits it to be raised or lowered until the object is in focus, i.e., until a clear image is formed. When an object is in focus, a real, inverted image is formed by the lower lens at a point inside the principal focus of the upper lens. This image serves as an object for the upper lens which produces another image larger still (but virtual) and visible to the eye of the observer.

Computation of Magnifying Power

The magnifying power of a lens is commonly expressed in diameters. For example, if a lens magnifies an object 5 times, the magnification is said to be 5 diameters, commonly written simply 5x. The total magnification of a compound microscope is computed by multiplying the magnifying power of the objective by the magnifying power of the eyepiece.

Development and Uses

The invention of the microscope is variously accredited to Zacharias Janssen, a Dutch spectaclemaker, c.1590, and to Galileo, who announced his invention in 1610. Others are known for their discoveries made by the use of the instrument and for their new designs and improvements, among them G. B. Amici, Nehemiah Grew, Robert Hooke, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, Marcello Malpighi, and Jan Swammerdam. The compound microscope is widely used in bacteriology, biology, and medicine in the examination of such extremely minute objects as bacteria, other unicellular organisms, and plant and animal cells and tissue—fine optical microscopes are capable of resolving objects as small as 5000 Angstroms. It has been extremely important in the development of the biological sciences and of medicine.

Modified Compound Microscopes

The ultramicroscope is an apparatus consisting essentially of a compound microscope with an arrangement by which the material to be viewed is illuminated by a point of light placed at right angles to the plane of the objective and brought to a focus directly beneath it. This instrument is used especially in the study of Brownian movement in colloidal solutions (see colloid ). The phase-contrast microscope, a modification of the compound microscope, makes transparent objects visible; it is used to study living cells. The television microscope uses ultraviolet light. Since this light is not visible, the apparatus is used with a special camera and may be connected with a television receiver on which the objects (e.g., living microorganisms) may be observed in color.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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