Thursday, July 19, 2012

Microscope Magnification versus Resolution

A common misconception when selecting a new microscope (especially a children's microscope) is that the higher the magnification, the better the microscope. Magnification is simply the amount the specimen is magnified. For example, in order to view bacteria, you generally need a minimum magnification of 400x.

Bacteria under the microscope
Resolution however, is the most important factor, as it determines the clarity of the specimens being viewed through the microscope. Resolution is the ability to see objects that are small and close together as separate objects. The human eye can tell the difference between two objects that are about 0.3mm apart. Using a microscope, you can tell the difference between two objects that are 0.0003mm apart, or about 1,000 times better resolution.

Gypsum captured at 1000x magnification using the Digital BA210 microscope.

Magnifying an object 1000x is as good as it gets with a light microscope. In order to resolve even smaller objects, you would need to use a different kind of microscope known as a scanning electron microscope. Any light microscope that offers magnification above 1000x may magnify the object a lot, but the resolution will be poor.