Digital Microscopes

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Many of us probably remember the optical microscope from our school science classes. I remember carefully preparing a specimen, usually of an insect part or slice from a leaf or plant stem, and squashing this into a fragile glass slide. You then spent the next several minutes looking into the eye piece and fiddling with knobs and small mirrors trying to get it all intp focus. Does this sound familiar? As often as not, you ended up breaking the glass as you tried to get everything in focus. Even if you managed to not break the glass, you then had to alternately peer into the eyepiece and to the desk to try and remember enough to create a passable drawing of your specimen.

With the advent of computers and the digital era things have improved a lot.

You can now buy a handheld digital microscope for less than $100 which will plug straight into the USB port of almost any computer and displays and records the image in real-time. Any number of students can now see the image on the screen, or print it diretly to an inkjet printer, all from a single specimen. A digital miscroscope still uses optics much the same way as a traditional microscope, but also has a built-in digital camera, which works just like a webcam but with magnification. The software that comes with these cameras will let you take still or video pictures while magnifying the image by 200 times or more. You can then use your regular image software to manipulate and use the picture in many ways.

Although these digital microscopes are obviously great in a science classroom environment, where a teacher can present and discuss a rapid sequence of images, don't neglect their home use. They offer an amazing insight into the world around us from a rarely seen perspective. You will be amazed at the complexity and detail of everything you can find in nature.