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Basics of Microscopes

Microscope Types & Principles

Main Types of Microscopes

The table below describes the main types of microscopes within the optical, electron, and scanning probe categories.

Category Type Description
Optical microscope Binocular stereoscopic microscope A microscope that allows easy observation of 3D objects at low magnification.
Brightfield microscope A typical microscope that uses transmitted light to observe targets at high magnification.
Polarizing microscope A microscope that uses different light transmission characteristics of materials, such as crystalline structures, to produce an image.
Phase contrast microscope
-> What is a phase contrast microscope?
A microscope that visualizes minute surface irregularities by using light interference. It is commonly used to observe living cells without staining them.
Differential interference contrast microscope This microscope, similar to the phase contrast, is used to observe minute surface irregularities but at a higher resolution. However, the use of polarized light limits the variety of observable specimen containers.
Fluorescence microscope
-> What is a fluorescence microscope?
A biological microscope that observes fluorescence emitted by samples by using special light sources such as mercury lamps. When combined with additional equipment, brightfield microscopes can also perform fluorescence imaging.
Total internal reflection fluorescence microscope A fluorescence microscope that uses an evanescent wave to only illuminate near the surface of a specimen. The region that is viewed is generally very thin compared to conventional microscopes. Observation is possible in molecular units due to reduced background light.
Laser microscope
(Laser scanning confocal microscope)
-> What is a laser scanning confocal microscope?
This microscope uses laser beams for clear observation of thick samples with different focal distances.
Multiphoton excitation microscope The use of multiple excitation lasers reduces damage to cells and allows high-resolution observation of deep areas. This type of microscope is used to observe nerve cells and blood flow in the brain.
Structured illumination microscope
-> What is a structured illumination microscope?
A high-resolution microscope with advanced technology to overcome limited resolution found in optical microscopes that is caused by the diffraction of light.
Electron microscope Transmission electron microscope (TEM), scanning electron microscope (SEM), etc. These microscopes emit electron beams, not light beams, toward targets to magnify them.
Scanning probe microscope (SPM) Atomic force microscope (AFM), scanning near-field optical microscope (SNOM), etc. This microscope scans the surface of samples with a probe and this interaction is used to measure fine surface shapes or properties.
Others X-ray microscope, ultrasonic microscope, etc.

In addition to the above categories, optical microscopes can be classified as follows:

Classification by application

Biological microscope With a magnification ranging from 50x to 1,500x, this microscope uses sliced samples that are fixed onto slides for observation.
(Binocular) stereoscopic microscope The binocular system allows 3D observation of samples, such as insects or minerals, in their natural state without the need to be sliced. The magnification ranges from 10x to 50x.

Classification by structure

Upright microscope Observes targets from above. This type of microscope is used to observe specimens on slides.
Inverted microscope Observes targets from below. This microscope is used to observe, for example, cells soaked with culture in a dish.

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