Microscope Explorers

Microscope Explorers

Fun with Microscopes

There is a really cool world to be found with a microscope or magnifying glass. If you are learning about a topic, such as bird feathers or insects, you can use a magnifying tool to see parts that are too small for the human eye. Or, you can just have fun looking at anything that comes to mind, just because you have a neat tool - a microscope or magnifying glass.

Getting Started

Most microscopes come with some prepared slides. Looking at these helps you to build your skill in using the microscope. Does your microscope reverse the image? If it does, when you move the slide one way it makes the image in the microscope move the other way. If will take a little practice to get good at moving objects around to see all of them.

Does your microscope have different lenses? It is a good idea to start looking at something with the lowest power lens. After you have seen it at low power and have it centered in view, then try looking with a higher power lens.

Practice drawing what you see. Use a compass or trace a round object to make a circle on a piece of paper. Use this as the round area that you see in your microscope. Draw the object you are looking at so it fills as much of the circle as the object does when you look in the microscope (called the field of view or just the field).

Most microscopes use a mirror or electric light underneath. The object you look at must be thin enough that light can go through it. Other microscopes use light from the top to shine down on an object. These are called dissecting microscopes. They usually are not as powerful. They are useful for looking at larger things like flowers which can be taken apart or dissected. Remember to use a very small piece of any object you are looking at if the light source is below the object.

Things to Explore

Scrape a wooden toothpick along the inside of your cheek and smear it on a slide. Look at the slide to see if you can find any cells from the inside of your cheek.

Get some water from a pond, a puddle or an aquarium. Can you find anything swimming in a drop of water when you look at it under the microscope? Put a handful of dead grass in a small jar of this water and leave it with the top off for a week. A peanut butter or jelly jar is good for this. Look at it again in a week to 10 days when it is starting to smell bad. Do you find things swimming in it now? This is called a hay infusion. See if you can identify some of the things you find in the hay infusion or make up your own names to describe them.

Get a piece of onion. Break it apart where one layer peels away from another. Use tweezers or your fingernails to pull a thin layer off the inside or outside surface of this onion layer. Look at it under the microscope. Can you see the cells that make up this onion skin layer? If you can, put a drop of iodine on it. Can you see the cells better now?

Look at pieces of thread from different clothes. Compare the small fibers that make up the threads.

Dissolve different household powders in water (get permission first so you know it is safe) and leave them until the water evaporates away. You may find interesting crystals left behind. Try salt and sugar for example. Put some iodine on a slide, let it evaporate and look at what is left behind.

Look at algae from a pond or puddle.

Look at the leaves of aquatic plants.

Try taking a small piece of leaf from a land plant and squeezing it between two glass slides. See if you can see plant cells. Try the same technique with the very tip of a root from a plant.

Find dead insects on window sills, the front of a car or where ever else you can. Look at the wings, mouth parts, legs and abdomen. Do you see tiny pegs or hairs? See if you can find out what they are and what they do.

Try to get sand from different beaches. Look at them with microscope or magnifier and compare the grains of sand. Write to people in other areas and ask them to send sand for you to look at.


Teacher and older students might enjoy visiting Molecular Expression's Primer on microscope use. Anyone interested in microscopes will enjoy a visit to their images page.

Dennis Kunkel's Microscopy page has beautiful images to see. Greatscopes, a microscope sales company, has a page of well described microscope activities. See more lovely images at Loes Modderman's Microscopic Science-Art.

Micscape - Exploring the World in Miniature, an online magazine for amateurs, has some great images to view. Its Introduction to Microscopy has useful information for beginners including tips for buying a microscope and Monthly Nature Walk which features things to see with a 10x lens.

Microscope Adventures lists some more projects to do.

View text-based website