Microscopes are great educational toys that allow children to explore the world while having fun developing their science skills. But there are several types of scopes, with varying levels of quality and cost, each suited to a different need. Here’s how to find the best microscope for your family.
* Microscope Features to Consider *
Before discussing the specific varieties of microscopes on the market, there are two important features to become familiar with before going shopping-a microscope’s light source and magnification range.
* Microscope Light Source: “Bargain” scopes will often have a mirror, or very small bulb, as a light source. Light is necessary for observing a specimen with a microscope. The amount of light determines the level of contrast between the object and the background. Too little light and you can’t see the specimen. Too much light and the specimen becomes washed out, and equally difficult to see. My recommendation is to stay away from cheap microscopes that use mirrors to illuminate objects. It is difficult to get sufficient light for a good image.
* Microscope Magnification: Dissecting, or stereo, microscopes are designed to magnify objects that can already be seen with the naked eye, allowing the observer to discern additional detail. These are low magnification scopes with a range of approximately 10x to 40x actual size (with “x” meaning times). Microscopes with the ability to provide low levels of magnification are great for little kids who want to get a better look at things that they encounter in the world around them, such bugs, leaves, flowers and other small objects.
Compound microscopes provide two sets of lenses, that together deliver high magnification, generally from 40x to 1000x, depending on the specific lenses that they come with. These high magnification scopes are great for seeing items that are not visible to the naked eye, such as bacteria, the details of pollen grains-tiny stuff. High magnification scopes are more difficult for small children to use, and have the limitation of over-magnifying objects that can be seen with the naked eye. They provide great detail, but the detail may be so minute that young children can’t really relate to what they are seeing.
* Types of Microscopes: Digital, Stereo and Compound *
There are essentially three main types of microscopes to select from when buying a student scope:
(1) Computer Microscopes
(2) Dissecting Microscopes
(3) Compound Microscopes.
Here us a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
* Computer Microscopes: In an age of technology, the computer, or digital, microscope is usually the best value, and most flexible option. These scopes allow specimens to be viewed on a computer screen, and generally have a wide range of magnifications from low (10x) to quite high (200x). The image of the specimen can be saved as a graphic file, as well as manipulated and printed, which is handy for science projects. There are many cheap digital scopes out there, for less than $100, and if you are purchasing the microscope as merely a cool toy for the kids, a less expensive scope will do a decent job. To get a good quality computer microscope that produces higher resolution images, plan to spend at least $150.00.
* Compound Microscopes: As mentioned above, compound scopes provide high levels of magnification, and are great for looking at tiny objects, but are a bit more challenging to operatea good choice for junior high and high school students. There are compound microscopes that have computer adapters, but they can be costly. The price of a good quality, basic student grade compound microscope starts at approximately $120.00.
* Stereo Scopes: With a typical magnification range of 10x – 40x, stereo microscopes work well for examining larger items, and since the magnification is lower, focusing the microscope is a less exacting task. Still plan to spend at least $75.00 and for a good student grade scope, and, as with all three types of microscopes, the prices vary widely according to quality.
There are several excellent websites that offer science equipment for students. See the links below for a wide range of microscopes and other science toys and equipment; high quality to merely recreational.
The Microscope Depot Edmund Scientifics Discover This!