Friday, May 28, 2010

Which type of microscope should you buy for your child?

I had a parent ask me today "My 10 year old daughter asked me for a microscope for her birthday.  What type of microscope should I buy?".

First, you need to decide if you want a toy microscope (typically any microscope under $100) or a student scope.  If you buy a toy scope, you must keep your expectations in the "toy expectation" range.  For instance, buying a toy scope and expecting the performance that you experienced from the microscopes typically used in schools (usually at least $200 and up) is unreasonable. However, toy microscopes are excellent for engaging the new user and testing the waters for interest in microscope use.  Some toy microscopes are quite pricey!  For example, the Celestron "Research" Microscope sells for $134 on Amazon!

Also consider this:   if you buy a toy scope and your child becomes very interested in using it regularly, they will quickly outgrow the capabilities of the toy microscopes and then you'll need to buy the student versions.

Student scopes are designed to withstand years of use by many students and teachers and, with appropriate, periodic servicing by a professional, maintain performance.  Accuscope is an excellent example of some basic, student microscopes.

You also need to decide whether you want a compound microscope (shown above), or a stereoscope (shown below).

A simple way to decide which you'd like to use is this:
1. If you can see it with your naked eye, but want to see it in much more detail, you want a stereoscope.
2. If you can't see it with your naked eye, then you MUST buy a compound microscope.

To save money, buy a microscope with a mirror lighting system (uses reflected light to illuminate the speciment).  However, built-in lighting systems are worth the extra expense (exerpted from Optics Planet):  

"If budget is an issue, you can opt for a student model that uses a mirror, instead of a built-in light, but a built-in light is well worth the extra expense. For a student model with a mirror, try the Celestron 44102 or the Konus College (Note that the tiny LED lights found on some toy microscopes do NOT qualify as a useable lighting system and will have a predictably short lifespan.)"


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