The 10 Best USB Microscopes
A Brief History Of Microscopes
However, about a half century later, an alternative to the light microscope was created.
We can now see things that were previously only discussed theoretically, like nanoparticles.
For as long as mankind has walked the Earth, we've wanted to know if there are little bugs crawling in our eyelashes. Well, maybe not — we're probably better off not knowing — but we've long been fascinated by the possibilities of an unseen world all around us.
The first attempt to shed light on the microscopic realm came in the 14th century, with the creation of the first ground-glass lenses. These were designed only to improve eyesight, but the basic concept would be used a few centuries later by a pair of Dutch lensgrinders, Hans and Zacharias Janssen. They put two lenses together in a tube, creating a primitive compound microscope.
This new device was mainly seen as a mere novelty until the 1660s, when naturalists in several countries began to use them to study biology. The most famous of these was Antonie von Leeuwenhoek, who was the first person to describe cells and bacteria. He was able to do so by modifying his microscope, adding a glass ball lens that allowed him to magnify subjects up to 300 times.
The main limitation of these early microscopes was their ability to capture and focus light. Until electric lamps became available, it was very difficult to evenly light your subject, and it turns out that it's extremely hard to use a microscope in the dark. In 1893, the German scientist August Kohler developed a form of illumination that bears his name, allowing for sharper images and improved analysis.
However, about a half century later, an alternative to the light microscope was created. Designed by German physicist Ernst Ruska, this model used electrons instead of light to illuminate the subject, allowing for significantly better resolution. It would eventually lead to the ability to visually identify viruses, making it easier to quickly respond to infections. Ruska won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Since then, there have been many more advancements in the field of microscopy, with scanning probes, x-rays, fluorescence, and super resolution microscopes all helping to further our knowledge of the infinitesimal world around us. We can now see things that were previously only discussed theoretically, like nanoparticles.
Of course, we can also now see things we wish we could unsee, like the mites crawling around in our eyelashes right now...
How To Pick The Right USB Microscope For You
USB options come in a range of complexities, so the first thing you need to do is decide how much power you need. If this is for a young child, there are many choices that are both simple and durable, allowing them to slake their curiosity without much risk of breaking the equipment. Likewise, there are models that give you tremendous performance (and a price to match) that are suitable for forensic scientists and other professionals.
If this is for a young child, there are many choices that are both simple and durable, allowing them to slake their curiosity without much risk of breaking the equipment.
Next, decide whether or not you need to take it in the field with you, or if you'll bring samples back to your home or lab. While any USB microscope can plug into portable devices like your laptop, there are certain models that are much easier to take with you. If you don't want to lug around a full-sized microscope, there are options like wand-style versions that are easy to toss in your bag or briefcase.
There are varying degrees of bells and whistles to consider, as well. If you need it for basic, lower-level class work, you can find one that is incredibly easy to use, while still getting the job done. Conversely, if you're in graduate-level classes, there are options that offer tremendous levels of magnification, as well as the ability to really fine-tune the display to your liking.
Thanks to these USB microscopes, it's never been easier to study the world at a minuscule level, without breaking the bank. After all, the last place you want to have to use your microscope is when you're trying to find signs of life in your bank account.
Beginner Tips For Using Your Microscope
Using a microscope seems simple — all you have to do is look through the eyeglass, right? However, if you've never used one before, you may find that it's not as simple as it seems.
Also, if all you can see is your own eyelashes, that means you're too far away from the eyepiece.
The most important thing is to be careful with it. This may seem obvious, but I'm not just talking about the risk of breaking it. It's easy to jostle your microscope and throw your settings off, and getting them restored to where you need them to be can take a lot longer than you'd think. It's a piece of precision equipment, so treat it as such. Carry it with two hands, one around the base, the other on the arm.
If this is your first time using one, you may be surprised by how difficult it can be to find your sample. That's normal, and takes a little practice. Making sure that the sample is directly over your light source will drastically increase your chances of finding it quickly, and from there it's just a matter of fine-tuning it to your liking.
Don't wear your glasses while using the microscope unless it's specifically designed to allow you to do so; generally speaking, if it can't provide enough magnification for you to see, then you need a better scope. Also, if all you can see is your own eyelashes, that means you're too far away from the eyepiece.
Most models will allow you to change a variety of options, including magnification, focus, and the amount of light you let in. Each of these settings will affect how your sample looks. If it's too washed out, for example, let in less light. If it's large but blurry, adjust the focus. Play with each setting until you're happy with the image.
Pretty soon, you'll be handling your microscope like a pro. Just remember — if this guide helps you find something that wins you a Nobel Prize, I get a cut of that sweet, sweet prize money.