Alright! So you’ve just bought you and your kids a brand new microscope, and you’ve already blown through the prepared slides they came with. Now what can you do? How in the heck do you take care of this thing? Are you supposed to clean it? What should you look at next? How can you enjoy this tool of scientific wonder to the fullest, and really get a great view of the tiny world of microscopic life all around you?
Let’s begin by taking a look at how to care for your microscope…
First, let me give you a pro tip. Always keep your microscope covered when it’s not in use! It may be tempting to leave it out on display. After all, it looks awesome next to your cool science books on your bookshelf, and it makes for a great conversational piece when you have company over!
Trust me when I say, this is a huge mistake! I did this when I bought my daughter her first microscope, and it did not end well. When left out and uncovered, the lenses can collect dust and debris, which can completely cloud your lenses. In some cases, you can clean them off. However, if that dust gets inside the inner lenses and prisms, you may just find yourselves with objective lenses that you cannot use. And really, what’s the point of having an awesome microscope if you can’t fully use it?
You can keep your microscope covered with a large dust cover, or even a T-shirt or a towel! Just make sure that the whole thing is covered: the eyepieces, the stage, the body… all of it!
CLEANING YOUR MICROSCOPE AND SLIDES
Alright, so you’ve got your microscope covered, but due to the nature of the world, you’re still going to get a little bit of dust on it. How are you supposed to clean it? The answer is, very carefully.
Here is what you’ll need to clean a standard microscope (this does not pertain to oil immersion microscopes. For that, go here and scroll to “Proper Use and Removal of Immersion Oil“).
Original Windex or lens cleaning solution
Microscope/Camera lens paper
Can of Compressed Air
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NOTE: Only clean the outer parts of your lenses. Never attempt to clean the inner part where the prisms and inner mechanism are!
1. Begin by carefully spraying down your microscope. Keep your can of compressed air in an upright position, so that you don’t get any of the liquid fluorocarbons on your microscope! Gently wipe down any surface that does not have lenses or glass, with a dust free cloth.
2. Add a drop or two of Windex to your Q-tip. Remove your eyepiece, and cover the tube where it came from. Working from the center of the eye lens, gently rub the Q-tip in a circular motion going from the inside of the lens, to the outside. You’ll want your liquid to do the work here, so don’t press hard!
3. Take your lens paper and gently wipe the eye lens until it’s dry. If you see any dust, try to blow it off with your compressed air (remember to keep it upright!).
4. Put your eyepieces back on, now it’s time to work on your objective lenses!
5. First, spray your lenses with the compressed air.
6. If there is still dust on them, add a drop or two of Windex to your Q-tip and hold the tip to the outer part of the lens. Work in a circular pattern, lightly working from the inside to the outside of the lens. If your lenses are really dirty, this may take a few Q-tips. It’s better to work with several applications, than to grind that dirt into your lenses!
7. Take your lens paper and gently wipe until it’s dry. Put your lenses back on in the order in which you took them off. You’re done!
Here’s a nice video detailing the instructions on how to clean your microscope. The first part of the video has written instructions and warnings, the second part demonstrates the actual cleaning.
Now that you’ve got a clean microscope, let’s take a look at those slides! You’ve been using your microscope, you know what can be on there, even if you can’t see it with your naked eye! Cleaning your microscope slides and slip covers is really easy, and you’ve probably already got everything in your house to do it!
1. Pour 1/2 cup of vinegar into your bowl.
2. Soak your slides and slip covers into your bowl for about 3 minutes. The slip covers are very thin, and will be difficult to see in the bowl (the light refracts off of them making them almost invisible!). Watch out for these as you take your slides out of the bowl!
3. Take your slides out of the bowl. Using your Q-tips, wipe with a sliding motion, both sides of the slide until it is clean. Use your paper towel to dry them.
4. Once your slides are done, it’s time for the slip covers! These are hard to see, so take your finger, and press lightly on the bottom of the bowl until you feel one, then slide it out of the bowl.
5. Use the same method of cleaning as you did with your slides. Use a Q-tip instead of a paper towel to dry.
Alright! We’ve got a clean microscope and we’ve got some clean slides, let’s go use them!
Your microscope may have come with some prepared slides to look at. These will often include insect wings, fleas, onion skin, and some type of animal hair. If you’re like us, these prepared slides entertained you for about a half hour before you started looking around to see what else you could find to look at! The nice thing about a microscope, is that just about anything looks awesome when viewed under high magnification!
Here are some ideas to get you started!
- Dip a shallow cup (or use a pipette to draw water into a test tube!) in a puddle or pond and put a few drops on your slide. What kinds of cool microbial life can you see?
- Compare strands of your hair with those of your family members. Who has the thickest hair? What do your follicles look like?
- Grab a little speck of dust in the corner of your house. What is dust made of? You may be surprised to find out!
- Pick some pollen out of the center of a flower and set it onto the slide. Do different flowers have different shapes of pollen?
- Do you live near a beach? Grab a pinch of sand and put a little on a slide. What will you see there? You’ll probably find small rocks and maybe even a few tiny shells!
- Prick a finger? Grab a slide! Check out red blood cells under the microscope! If you have a few drops of it, add a drop of rubbing alcohol and watch closely to see them all scatter!
- Take a scalpel and cut a thin layer of a leaf. See if you can see the plant cells under your microscope? How do they compare to your blood cells (animal and plant cell comparison)?
- Look at insect legs, antennae, and wings!
- Make your own prepared slides with clean nail polish and specimens!
EXPERIMENTS AND ACTIVITIES FOR LEARNING WITH YOUR MICROSCOPE
Some of my favorite activities have stemmed simply from looking at random things under our microscope and wanting to know more. That’s the fun of science, being inspired, following curiosity, and learning something new! To that end, here are some of our favorite activities that you can try too!
From The Science of Fall
Compare leaves of different colors and explore the changing seasons! If you have any dead leaves around, take a look at them under the microscope! All you need to do is break up the leaves into tiny pieces, grind them up with a little bit of water, and add a few drops of your mixture to a slide! Do the same with healthy leaves. What can you see? What are the differences in cell structure?
From A Look Inside The Crystal Shard
Many of us know about the awesome beauty of salt crystal gardens. Did you know that you can do a microscopic garden too? Take a glass medicine dropper, add 1 drop of ammonia, laundry bluing, distilled water, and a tiny pinch of salt. Stand back and watch your garden grow!
Paint what you see under the microscope! This is a great way to introduce kids to scientific illustration, while also throwing a bit of creativity to the mix! We were specific with our drawings, but we went wild with colors! What sort of microbial creations can your kids dream up?
From Under the Microscope
Do a pond study! We used a standing water study, and compared the water of a standing puddle, to the water in our chlorinated pool. Then we did a puddle study where we compared filtered water, tap water, and tap water with leaves in it, to monitor microbial life over time!
Agar tutorial from Instructables
Grow a culture of bacteria! You can buy a great bacteria growth kit for $20 on Amazon, which will come with everything you need to grow some bacteria! Once you’ve prepped your petri dish, take a cotton swab to different areas of your home (or face!), streak it along the surface of your agar. Cover the dish and put it in a warm, dry place, and watch your colony grow!
From Home Science And DNA Extraction
Extract DNA from strawberries and take a look at them under the microscope! We have done this project many times over the years, and it is really fun to compare the cells of intact strawberries with those who have had their proteins broken and DNA extracted!
A microscope can be a tool of endless fascination and wonder. There is so much to explore in the world of tiny microorganisms and so many experiments to do! When you look under your microscope, play around with what you see! Ask questions! Make messes! Delight in wonder! If you take care of your microscope, and use it to discover the world around you, you will be remain entertained and curious for many years to come.