Dos & Don'ts When Caring for a Microscope

Dos & Don'ts When Caring for a Microscope thumbnail
Proper maintenance and storage protects the microscope from dust and debris.

A microscope is a valuable piece of research equipment for the lab. It is also a good learning tool for home use, giving amateur scientists a view of images invisible to the naked eye. Since microscopes are delicate precision instruments, they require careful handling and gentle cleaning. You should perform regular maintenance to ensure peak performance of the instrument, while avoiding sloppy viewing procedures that can lead to component damage and expensive repairs.

  1. Handling a Microscope

    • Microscopes are heavier than they appear, so always carry a microscope with one hand supporting its base and the other hand grasping its arm. Before you set up your slide, lower the microscope's stage and rotate the lowest-powered objective lens into position. When you're ready to view your slide, use only the light level required to provide a detailed view of your specimen. Continual use of a microscope's bulb at full power can blow the bulb out or cause its housing to slowly soften and deform from the bulb's heat.

    Cleaning the Lenses

    • Use lens paper for cleaning the microscope's optics. Never use a tissue, as the paper can scratch the lenses, and never touch lenses with your fingertips. As soon as you notice dirt accumulating on your lens paper, discard it and begin using a fresh paper. Use several papers to clean one lens rather than contaminate or damage the expensive component by recycling dirty lens paper. Never blow on a lens to remove dust from its surface. You risk spraying the glass with saliva, which can degrade the lens' imaging capability.

    Working with Immersion Oil

    • Immersion oil provides a clearer, more detailed image by reducing the refraction of the light that reaches your microscope's objective lens. However, if you don't fully remove residual oil from the microscope after viewing your sample, the remaining oil can flow into the microscope's casing, causing damage to gears, mounts and the condenser lens. Always clean the microscope's stage immediately after viewing your slides, and wipe down any other parts that have come into contact with the oil. When you're setting up your slide, never rotate a dry lens into viewing position. If immersion oil gets onto a concave dry lens, it's extremely difficult to fully clean the lens.

    Storing the Microscope

    • When you've finished using a microscope, return its objective lenses to their cases and place the microscope's plugs back into its lens sockets. A microscope should always be stored within an enclosed space such as a cabinet to minimize its exposure to dust and other detritus. If you're working in a lab with equipment that produces vibrations, store the microscope well away from that machinery. Always replace the microscope's protective cover, even if it is stored in a cabinet, as this provides an additional barrier against dust and contaminants.

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