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Microscope Optical Components

Section Overview:

Modern compound microscopes are designed to provide a magnified two-dimensional image that can be focused axially in successive focal planes, thus enabling a thorough examination of specimen fine structural detail in both two and three dimensions.

Review Articles


The optical components contained within modern microscopes are mounted on a stable, ergonomically designed base that allows rapid exchange, precision centering, and careful alignment between those assemblies that are optically interdependent. Together, the optical and mechanical components of the microscope, including the mounted specimen on a glass micro slide and coverslip, form an optical train with a central axis that traverses the microscope stand and body.

Microscope Cutaway Diagrams

Examine the internal components of the optical microscope with these cutaway diagrams of popular teaching and research microscopes. Each illustration is extensively labeled to aid understanding of the placement and proximity of lenses, diaphragms, mirrors, filters, shutters, lamps and other components contained within a modern microscope.

  • Olympus BX51 Research Microscope

    Featuring advanced Olympus UIS infinity-corrected optics, the BX51 is designed for both transmitted and reflected light utilizing a variety of contrast enhancement techniques including fluorescence, DIC, and phase contrast.

  • Olympus BH2 Research Microscope

    Standard equipment on this research-level microscope included 10x widefield high eyepoint eyepieces having a field number of 20, pre-centered halogen lamps, and fully enclosed light paths designed to exclude dirt and dust.

Interactive Tutorials

  • Geometrical Construction of Ray Diagrams

    One method of representing a train of propagating light wave involves the geometrical optics determining the size and location of images. Explore how two light rays can establish the parameters of an imaging scenario.

  • Perfect Lens Characteristics

    Simple imaging elements in a microscope are perfect lens, which is a corrected glass element that is aberration free and focuses light onto a single point. See how light waves propagate through and are focused by a perfect lens.

  • Perfect Two-Lens System Characteristics

    It's convenient to represent a perfect lens as a system composed of two individual lens elements when a point source of light does not lie in the focal plane of a lens. See off-axis oblique light rays passing through such a system.

  • Projection and Viewing Eyepieces

    The eyepiece (or ocular) is designed to project either a real or virtual image. Explore how eyepieces can be coupled to the human eye or a camera system to produce images generated by the microscope objective.

  • Condenser Image Planes

    Explore and examine the relationship between image planes relevant to the field and condenser diaphragms and how aperture size affects ray trace pathways in this interactive java tutorial.

  • Microscope Conjugate Field Planes

    Discover and learn about the relationship between image planes relevant to the field and condenser diaphragms and how aperture size affects ray trace pathways in this interactive tutorial.

  • Infinity Microscope Conjugate Field Planes

    Explore the relationship between image planes in a microscope with a tube lens for magnification of the intermediate image is determined by the ratio of the focal lengths of the tube and objective lens.

  • Olympus BX51 Microscope Light Pathways

    The featured interactive tutorial contains sliders and radio buttons that allow the user to adjust the intensity of illumination and to adjust a virtual beamsplitter that directs light to the eyepieces or a camera system.

Selected Literature References

Selected Literature References

The list of reference materials provided in this section attempts to cover both early reviews and the latest information available on microscope components and the microscope optical train. Many references are comprehensive and cover a majority of topics concerning lenses, principal planes, off-axis light rays, virtual images, and image planes, while other references explore these concepts in conjunction with topics such as image formation, optical aberrations, and illumination.

Contributing Authors

Mortimer Abramowitz - Olympus America, Inc., Two Corporate Center Drive., Melville, New York, 11747.

Kenneth R. Spring - Scientific Consultant, Lusby, Maryland, 20657.

John C. Long, Matthew Parry-Hill, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.

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