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Microscope questions

 
frank larue
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I have always wanted a microscope and I'm interested enough to begin thinking seriously about getting one. Initially, I want to look at soil and compost activity but I don't know where else this will take me (my fermented sugar snap brine or mycorrhizae off some garden root perhaps). My questions are two-fold:

What are some solid options for machines that are built to last a long time? I'm looking at laboratory compound microscopes, though I believe I would need a stereo to see root activiy?

What, if any, options are there for staining slides that is completely non-toxic. I even try to find things that say food grade but I'll take the general "non-toxic" label for this one. I'm hoping there is a pigment out there that can be made into a stain but that may well be wishful thinking.

Thanks all in advance.

 
John Elliott
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I'll answer the second question, since the answer to the first is another question: how much are you willing to spend?

For the second question, you might want to look at plant dyes. These were the first "stains", and even though they may not be classified as non-toxic, people weren't really ingesting them as dyes, and they did biodegrade. Unfortunately, this biodegradation was not a desirable property, so chemists set to work modifying the molecules, and in the process came up with artificial dyes. The history of alizarin, first as a plant product derived from the madder plant, then as a synthetic chemical dye, and finally ending up with completely synthetic quinacridone pigments is typical.

So hang out with the natural fabrics folk and ask them about their dyes. Maybe one of those will fit the bill for you.
 
Zach Muller
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I bought an Amscope M148C for very cheap on ebay. You can see some sample videos of it in actionon my project page. Sometimes I use the built in LED and also an extra LED flashlight if I am looking at something opaque. For liquid samples the built in LED is sufficient.

I have been satisfied with the all metal construction, and replaceable eyepiece and objectives. It has limitations, like the quality of the lenses on this one in particular, and sometimes I do not have the right eye piece or objective for what I am trying to see, but I work with it. I have just started an experiment to compare worm tea and manure tea, with luck you will see more microbe videos coming from me in the next week or two.

Get one and start checking out all the small things in life.
 
frank larue
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The price range I was looking at was somewhere between 300 and 600. I'll have to save for it but it helps to put money aside when I have a tool in mind. It would be nice to catch images or videos but that seems peripheral for my priorities currently. I've been recommended to stick with a 160mm tube length because it's replaceable. I was also told my a hobbyist that avoiding hot bulbs is better for examining live organisms. Is there truth to these claims?

Essentially, I'd like to buy one machine that so long as it receives care and maintenance will last and keep my interest for decades.

The plant dyes are a great idea! I will speak with my friends who make their clothes. Is there a color spectrum not suited to microscopes? would a beet dye work?

Thank you Zack for sharing your projects, it's great to see other people's explorations. Tea brews are my first go-to whenever I do acquire it!

What are your takes on examining mycorrhizae and root-zone activity? Is this more for a stereo rather than compound microscope?
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hey Frank I found a site that lists options in your price range here.

I was also told my a hobbyist that avoiding hot bulbs is better for examining live organisms. Is there truth to these claims?


I have not used a hot bulb to look at microbes personally, but I have read those claims based on the heat causing the sample to lose oxygen faster. I know for me, depending on how good my oxygen level to microbe ratio is to begin with, I will see the sample lose oxygen and come to a complete standstill after 2-6.
I imagine you would see shorter times with any added heat, but how much is anyones guess.
Maybe someone here has used a heat bulb on a microbe and chime in?

What are your takes on examining mycorrhizae and root-zone activity? Is this more for a stereo rather than compound microscope?


Well, to some extent you will see very little or nothing if you look through a compound at a sample that is large or opaque. I have a rough approximation using my 4x objective and shining a flashlight down onto the sample, so I can at least catch glimpses of the top surface of an opaque sample, but it is not ideal. If i were more into taking lumps of soil and trying to look at the critters for ID I would absolutely look into a stereo scope. With my compound I am so close that when I see the smallest soil mite the naked eye can see, it takes up a lot of my viewer, which is another limiting factor for observing bigger soil life.
 
frank larue
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Many thanks!
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Hot lights will kill the stuff you are trying to look at.
Are you thinking of staining living organisms? Staining is typically a means of getting higher contrast when viewing dead cells.

With microscopes you need good quality racking controls, so that you can focus and maintain focus, and you need the best quality lenses you can get.

Those two things pretty much define performance. You can feel the rack quality, just adjusting the controls. If it feels sloppy, loose, jerky, anything but solid and steady, you don't want it. The lenses are harder to judge, but you want to watch for distortion as you move away from the center of the field. There is more to resolution than just x times magnification, and more than distortion around the edges, but if you get a reasonably low distortion lens with the kind of magnification that will let you look at single cell organisms (but not let you focus in on their inner workings), you probably do not need to be concerned with the full range of what makes for good microscope images.

My father held patents on several light microscopes, I was raised around the things.
 
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