The Value of Understanding Microscopes

If you cannot disassemble and reassemble your compound light microscope and have it in working order when you are finished, or if you do not understand every part of your microscope and what it does, you are at a distinct disadvantage over those who have studied microscopy. Most importantly, you are at the mercy of those who are in the know, and you may not be able to work if something goes wrong with your scope and you cannot fix it. With waiting times for tech support sometimes as long as a month, it can be problematic.

Courses in microtechnique are becoming rarer in universities. If you see a course offered, take it. It is an opportunity not to be missed. If you cannot locate a face-to-face course, you can sometimes find training courses online.

The rep who sold you your instrument can also be a very valuable resource, and it is her job to help you. Watch and learn while s/he assembles the scope. Follow along in the manual, take photos, and ask questions. While the rep is with you, disassemble and reassemble your scope.

Once you understand the basic workings of a compound light microscope, you will be able to work with any random scope you come across during your fieldwork. All microscopes work using the same basic principles of light. Thus, you will gain any number of useful skills, such as how to create a cross-polarized field in a regular light microscope using a pair of sunglasses. Archaeologists are very good at making do with what we find in the field. Having a working knowledge of microscopes will help you work in places and under conditions that you never thought possible.


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